On the second day of WonderCon Faith Erin Hicks (The Nameless City, The Adventures of Superhero Girl) shared her story for how she went from a young girl drawing horse comics to an Eisner award winning writer and cartoonist.
Hicks began her talk by laying out her five stages for making a graphic novel:
Stage 1: Excitement: “All these new and exciting ideas, ready to dive into the breach!”
Stage 2: Despair: “Sadness over not being able to get the exact image I have in my head down on paper.”
Stage 3: Distraction: “I drink a lot of coffee and usually play with my cat…”
Stage 4: Doing the work: “It takes me about a year to draw a graphic novel.”
Stage 5: Publication Success!: “Everything is great until I find a tiny mistake and all I can do is feel sad that my comic isn’t perfect.”
In the beginning, Hicks says she drew a lot of horses mostly because she desperately wanted one. As Hicks moved into high school she found herself drawing fancomics, specifically ones of her and Mike from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 off on adventures together.
Hicks explained the importance of webcomics in helping to advance her career, helping her to develop her voice and style. “I highly recommend doing webcomics. It allows you to experiment and show publishers that you can actually make deadlines which is super important.”
She began to create webcomics in the late 90’s because Hicks didn’t feel like there were many comics for girls. Nor did Hicks feel particularly welcome at her local comic book store, so in 1999 Hicks started to create a comic called Demonology 101–influenced by the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To create her comics Hicks would steal printer paper from her parents and use pens purchased from Staples. By the time Hicks had completed her Demonology 101 series in 2004, she had over 700 pages of work.
Hicks said that as a young adult she never felt she had a space in comics and she never felt her work would be good enough. So between 2004 and 2008 Hicks went into animation, that is until the 2008 stock market crashed. Of the crash Hicks says, “Pretty much every animator in Canada found themselves without a job.”
That’s when comics came calling.
Her first published works were called Zombies Calling and the War at Ellsmere (SLG publishing) in 2007 and 2008. She didn’t sell a lot (around 2000 copies) but she kept pushing forward and creating. Hicks said she remained nervous about her chosen career path as a cartoonist until Brain Camp (Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan) was published by First Second in 2008.
Hicks worked on the art for the young adult graphic novel and before she had even completed her work for Brain Camp she sold First Second on her graphic novel Friends with Boys. It’s a book loosely based on Hicks’ childhood. A story about a homeschooled girl who has three brothers and just so happens to be haunted by a ghost as she’s about to start high school. The series, Hicks says, was originally created for DC’s ill-fated MINX imprint. “They cancelled the imprint after like a year and a half. I feel like that imprint was kind of before its time.”
In 2013, Hicks went on to work on her first glossy format comic to accompany the critically acclaimed video game The Last of Us by Naughty Dog. Neil Druckmann, the current Vice President of Naughty Dog, was a fan of Hicks’ work on Friends with Boys and reached out to her. Hicks worked alongside Druckmann to create a prequel story starring the Ellie. Ellie is the young teenage girl living in a post-apocalyptic time whose story drives the game’s narrative. The frenetic pace and tempo of writing the monthly series, Hicks jokingly says, nearly killed her. “The monthly comic schedule is insane. It was really scary. I found the publishing schedule vey, very challenging.”
Something about her career that seems to mystify Hicks has been the success she has found with The Adventures of Superhero Girl (DarkHorse). Hicks laughed as she remarked that DC would never let her write for Supergirl but she still loved the idea of telling a story involving a super hero girl. The web comic is based on a girl in her early 20’s who has recently flunked out of college. The character loves being a Superhero but isn’t sure how to translate this into a career.
Hicks relied on her experience as a twenty-something new cartoonist trying to make ends meet. She ays it’s a combination of being young and confused while combatting really silly and wacky nemesis like Skeptical Guy. Hicks laughed as she gestured towards an image of the comic on the projector screen, “This won an Eisner. They gave me an Eisner for this!”
It’s easy to see that Hicks feels a great deal of pride with her current series The Nameless City. If you are unfamiliar with the series it’s about a city which has been conquered so often its current name (whatever it is) has become meaningless. The comics involves a story about two people from opposite sides: Kaidu, a solider of the occupying nation Dao and Rat, a native of the Nameless City. The two form an unlikely friendship. Hicks says, the series has truly challenged her both with respect to character development as well as the scenery and background. All of which Hicks says was intentional, “I really wanted to kick my own butt.”
Hicks talked about her influences for the series which include: Bone (Jeff Smith), Avatar (Gene Luen Yang) and Fullmetal Alchemist (Hiromu Arakawa). She stressed the importance of seeing female cartoonists drawing incredible action sequences like those by Arakawa.”If I can draw an action sequence like the kind in Fullmetal Alchemist, I can die happy.”
Faith bookended her talk with her process for how she creates a graphic novel with a publisher:
- I have a fantastic comic book idea!
- I write a story outline. (Plot points, emotional beats)
- Rough draft of entire book in thumbnail form. (This includes writing the dialogue beside the thumbnails!)
- Type up the script.
- Penciling! (This usually takes up to a year)
- Nope. One more step: scanning the digital pages to my publisher.
As Hicks quickly realized time was running out, she took a few minutes to talk about her upcoming projects. The one she seems to be particularly excited for is being the new writer for Avatar (Dark Horse), the first book of which will be out in October. Hicks seemed almost flummoxed by the responsibility of taking on the mantle of writer for the incredibly successful series.
The minutes wore down but before time was up Hicks encouraged those in the audience to write more comics, to take chances to write stories that aren’t already out there. So go forth and create my fellow readers.
Andrea Ayres writes about comics, video games, and representation in pop-culture.