From Prose to Comics: SPEAK Creator Opens Up About Adapting Her Critically Acclaimed Novel

"Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say"

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless—an outcast—because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Ashley Kronsberg: Speak was original written as a novel and was a National Book Award Finalist. What was the journey like putting your story into the pages of a graphic novel?

Laurie Halse Anderson: It was fascinating! It gave me the opportunity to study the novel in terms of its raw structure, which I had not done before. The process turned into a Master Class about storytelling for me.

Ashley Kronsberg: Were there things you found easier/harder when adapting the story for the comics format?

Laurie Halse Anderson: In the early draft of the script I had way too many words. I had to learn to trust the art and only use narrative or dialog when it was absolutely necessary. I also had to learn to play a bit more with setting and visual perspective.

Ashley Kronsberg: What was the inspiration behind adapting your novel into the comics form? What advantages does this format have that were restricted in long-form prose narrative?

Laurie Halse Anderson: I first brought this up to Macmillan in 2011, when the paperback rights to the novel reverted back to them. I was very excited about the then-emerging YA graphic novel field and felt that Speak was the perfect story for the format, particularly because the main character uses art as a tool for healing. I wrote the script in 2015 and Emily got to work shortly after that.

Because the novel is an intensely first-person narrative, and that narrator is a depressed, traumatized teen, the novel structure limits the reader’s understand of the depth of her emotional pain in some scenes. When the character is unwilling to think about what she’s going through, that shuts down some things for the reader. My favorite advantage of the graphic novel was being able to show more of her emotional journey in the art.

Ashley Kronsberg: Were there things in the novel that didn’t make it into the graphic novel? How did you decide which pieces to feature?

Laurie Halse Anderson: There were two scenes in the novel that carried the same dramatic weight and didn’t add anything of interest for the reader. I mashed them together. It will be interesting to see if anyone notices.

Ashley Kronsberg: How has this adaptation changed the way you feel this story can be understood or interpreted?

Laurie Halse Anderson: The graphic novel opens up both the story and conversations about sexual violence to a new generation of readers. It’s a punch to the gut in a critically important way.