By Nancy Powell
Canadian cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks is primarily known for her graphic novels such as The Nameless City trilogy, Friends with Boys and the Eisner Award-winning The Adventures of Superhero Girl. But recently, Faith penned a novel loosely based on her life as as a comics creator. We sat down with Faith to talk creative differences, inspirations, and upcoming projects.
Nancy Powell (Powell): Congratulations on the release of the new book. What an exciting time for you! Was this something that you had always wanted to do?
Faith Erin Hicks (Hicks): Since I was a teenager I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I ended up writing and drawing graphic novels instead! It’s super fun to see a word book I wrote out in the world, sitting in a different section of the bookstore.
Powell: Now that you’ve completed the novel, which do you prefer most—creating the novel or creating a comic book?
Hicks: Honestly — I love comics best! Writing a novel was amazing, and I loved that I could work on it on the go, in airports, hotels and coffee shops, but I love drawing too much to ever leave comics.
Powell: How difficult or easy was the transition from comic book creator to novelist?
Hicks: At this point in my career I’m pretty comfortable drawing comics, so switching from something I’ve done more than a dozen times at this point to novel writing, which I’d never done before, was pretty challenging. I would think to myself “I have to describe what this character is feeling! I can’t just draw it!” It was really weird at first, I was literally trying to communicate in a completely different language.
Powell: Did you use storyboarding to flesh out the story?
Hicks: No, I didn’t. I’d draw the characters, just so I could better see them in my head when I wrote, but I didn’t do any thumbnailing of scenes in the novel or anything.
Powell: Did you know right away that you’d write a novel that incorporated comics history?
Hicks: Originally Comics Will Break Your Heart was more about the tension between art and commerce. It was something I was thinking about a lot when I first came up with the characters and original setting for the book. I was someone who had worked in the comic book industry for a few years, and I had a few passion projects on the back burner. They were projects I really wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if I could actually afford to do them, because passion projects don’t always pay the bills. Early versions of CWBYH were more about Miriam’s mother, who was (and still is in the final book) a painter, and how she struggled with selling her artwork, something Miriam didn’t understand. If people are willing to pay for it, just sell your paintings! But for Miriam’s mother it was more complicated than that. And for me it was too. When art is something you do to pay the rent, but it’s also your passion and your hobby, your relationship with it can get really fraught.
Powell: What surprised me the most about your novel was how the fictionalized Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee fight fit so seamlessly into the Romeo vs. Juliet theme. How hard was it for you to work that angle into this story?
Hicks: Surprisingly, not hard at all. It’s a very dramatic real life story, an artist fighting for his share of his co-creations, which had become billion dollar media properties. And then his family had to carry on that fight after his death, in order to get fair compensation. I made the connection between the two families in Comics Will Break Your Heart geographically much closer than their real life inspiration (Miriam and Weldon’s families literally live in the same small town), but that was something that was also inspired by comics. The comic book industry is tiny and everyone knows everyone and knows everyone’s background, so even if you’re geographically far away, you’re still locked together by the history of comics.
Powell: I also loved how you also worked in the whole creative process of creating comics—and storytelling—into the story. Is that process similar to your own creative process?
Hicks: Yes, it kind of is! I put a lot of my thoughts and feelings about making comics, and the kind of creative people who make comics, into this book. That was my favourite part, to be honest. Digging into how comics are actually made, and how people get involved in this industry. I hope the teens who read this book will find it entertaining.
Powell: And is the collaborative process between Mir and Evan similar to your past collaborations as well?
Hicks: A little bit, although they are both writers, and I’m a writer and an artist. I based their collaboration slightly on my own collaborations with my fiance; he always has amazing ideas, something I really struggle with. But I have a background in writing and editing, so I can take those ideas and refine them so they’re ready for a reader to dive in.
Powell: What books or writers influenced you the most in the development of your novel?
Hicks: Rainbow Rowell, for sure. I love the way she writes character relationships. She’s incredible at it. I like Patrick Ness and Maggie Stiefvater a lot too. They’re both super good at capturing the chaos of being a teenager. Mariko Tamaki wrote a young adult novel called Saving Montgomery Sole that I feel like was a big influence on CWBYH.
Powell: So you have an upcoming book with Rainbow Rowell coming out later this summer. Can you talk a little bit about that collaboration?
Hicks: Yes! Our graphic novel is called Pumpkinheads, and I’m so excited for people to read it! It’s about two teenagers, Deja and Josiah, who work together at a pumpkin patch. It’s their last night working at the patch, and they decide to go on one final magical adventure. Josiah wants to talk to this girl he’s had a crush on for like three years, and Deja wants to try all the snacks in the pumpkin patch. It’s sweet and funny and I drew the heck out of it. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.
Powell: What other writers do you want to work with in the future?
Hicks: If Ryan North ever asked me to collaborate on something, I’d jump at the chance. His writing is hilarious and smart and he likes Star Trek. I think we’d make something really cool!
Powell: And what other types of stories would you like to write?
Hicks: I’d like to do more fantasy, like my trilogy The Nameless City, but I’d also like to do more realistic fiction about young people in stressful periods of their lives. I love drawing comics with lots of drama.
Powell: Besides Avatar, are there other comic book projects in the works?
Hicks: In 2020 First Second Books will be publishing an updated version of my older graphic novel The War at Ellsmere. They’re changing the title to One Year at Ellsmere and I’m giving the book a visual facelift by re-inking the entire book. I’m working on it now and I’m really happy with how it’s coming out! I’m hoping the book will find a lot of new readers.
Powell: I am dying to know…will there be a sequel to Miriam and Weldon’s story?
Hicks: None planned as of yet. But who knows? ;)