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Interview: Rebecca Mock on ‘Knife’s Edge’

Compass South header

When the graphic novel Knife’s Edge is released this month, 12-year-old twin adventurers Cleopatra and Alexander Dodge will find their adventures at an end—at least for now. Will they find the treasure that is their inheritance? Will they manage to escape the dread pirate Felix Worley? Will Cleo ever kiss another boy? Will they ever find the pirate mother who abandoned them?

Compass SouthYou’ll have to read the book, the second half of a duology that includes last year’s Compass South, for the answers to those questions. But if you want answers to questions about how the book was created, then you’re in the right place. Yesterday, we spoke to writer Hope Larson about the books and her writing. Today we’ll be speaking with artist Rebecca Mock, who made her long-form comics debut with Compass South, about her work on the books.

I asked Hope Larson this question too, but I would be interested in hearing your perspective as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how you two came to be working together? Were you friends with Hope before you started working on this, or were you familiar with or a fan of her work?

I was just a fan of her work before we started working together. Hope was already working on the pitch for these books, and was looking for an artist to work with on them. I submitted my portfolio and I guess Hope liked it enough to take me on! I’m so grateful. I didn’t have much experience with comics at the time, and none with full-length graphic novels, so Hope really acted as a mentor, especially at first. I found it incredibly motivating to have someone put so much trust in me.

Rebecca MockI know that Compass South was your first graphic novel, but you’ve done comics before, and you do illustration and animation work as well. Given what a massive undertaking drawing a graphic novel is—let alone a series of graphic novels!—I was wondering if you could tell us what about this particular project attracted you, and convinced you that this was something you wanted to devote that time to?

I teamed up with Hope at almost the exact same time that my illustration and animation career was picking up, too—so I’ve been working on all these skills at the same time, which has been such a blessing. I love having so many different formats and styles to work in. Ideas bounce back and forth from one area to the next, opening up new possibilities. Furthermore, drawing a graphic novel had been a dream of mine since childhood, so I jumped at the chance. Since I was just starting out, this huge commitment felt like I was enrolling in free comics grad school—it would be a lot of hard work, but the end of it, I would have this incredible accomplishment and stronger skills.

Knife's EdgeBefore you actually started drawing the panels for Compass South, I imagine there must have been a great deal of work that went into the design stage, as it has such a large cast and such distinct settings. What was that stage of the process like?

You are right, there was an extensive design stage, especially for Compass South. Hope did a lot of research on her end and sent a huge folder of reference images to me, as well as books, links, and tidbits she’d collected that she knew would help me. I took all this and the first draft of her script and wrote two lists—one of all the characters, and one of all the settings. Each week I chose a chunk to research and design, and sent each chunk to Hope for her thoughts. This was such a help to me down the line—especially with the settings. I didn’t have to waste time thinking about how things were spaced out as I sketched the pages, since I already had the layouts in my head. Knowing how a space was shaped beforehand gave me new, fun angles to work in.

Because of the 19th century time period, Compass South and Knife’s Edge seem like particularly challenging graphic novels. In addition to what Hope sent you, did you find yourself doing quite a bit of research into some pretty diverse subjects?

I had some previous knowledge about Civil War-era fashion and settings, but this series went to so many new and interesting places, some of which there is very little historical information for! Finding things out was like a treasure hunt itself, but the research led to new ideas and details that we added in later. In addition to actual history, I studied the art of the era to see how things were actually drawn at the time—as well as studying other comics set in the 19th century, to see how other artists abstracted and simplified complicated things like tall ships!

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How different was the process of drawing Knife’s Edge versus drawing Compass South? I assume you would have been much more comfortable with the characters at that point, and that the bulk of the design work would have been out of the way.

I pretty much jumped right from finishing Compass South to starting Knife’s Edge without much of a break, so the two books bleed together a bit in my memory. I remember that when I was starting Compass South, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so taking more time to figure things out was necessary. With Knife’s Edge I was not only more comfortable with the characters, I was more comfortable as an artist, having worked as one for a few years at that point. I feel like you can tell my drawing style changed a lot from page one of Compass South to page 200 of Knife’s Edge, and I’m very proud of that.

Were there any characters or aspects of the books that proved more challenging than others? For example, Cleo is a girl disguised as a boy for much of the story, which I assume necessitated designing her and then adapting that design? You also draw various characters at different ages; in Knife’s Edge, for example, we see the rather colorful Captain Worley and Louisa as little kids.

Knifes Edge - CleoCleo was actually extremely easy for me to draw. Both Cleo and Alex are designed to be easy to draw, they’re the most simplified, and they look similar. This is on purpose—I’d be drawing them a lot, so I needed to be able to do it quickly. I designed Cleo as Patrick [the male identity she assumes in the first book], first, then adapted the design to her younger, feminine look, since we’d see less of that.

Similarly, the flashback-versions of Felix and Louisa were so fun to draw, it felt effortless. I found (adult) Felix Worley challenging to draw—perhaps because he’s a complicated guy. He needed to be menacing, but intriguing as well. Their dad, Dodge, was tricky too—I think it was the facial hair! Drawing facial expressions through a beard is tricky, ha ha.

Are there particular characters you enjoy drawing more than others?

Gasp! Of course I love all my characters equally. I loved drawing the captain Tarboro looking dashing. He’s just a regular ship captain, but secretly I think of him as a tragic prince from a bygone era. I think I have secrets for all my characters, and thats something that makes drawing them fun. Some of those secrets are revealed in the story, some are just made up and some will have to wait for future books…

I understand your next book is also a collaboration with Larson. I take it you guys enjoy working together then, huh? Will that be related to these books and, if not, can you tell us a little bit about it…?

I love working Hope, she’s a brilliant storyteller and insightful and supportive collaborator! Yes, we’re currently working a new book—it’s a brand new story, not a continuation of this series. That’s all I can say for now but I can’t wait to share more!

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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