Do you remember that girl from elementary school who tended to stick out from the others – the one that seemed to have more in common with the boys than the girls? Or maybe you were that girl. If that’s the case, then the upcoming graphic novel Friends with Boys might be for you.
Cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks has done books in the past ranging from zombie invasions to boarding school drama, and even taking a trip to summer camp. But in the forthcoming Friends with Boys she takes on the daunting days of high school for a girl who’s been homeschooled her entire life. And oh yeah, there’s a ghost stalking her.
Although the print edition isn’t scheduled for release until February 2012, First Second is serializing the entire graphic novel online beginning this July. Online serialization is a strategy the publisher has used with several books such as Zahra’s Paradise and Sailor Twain & the Mermaid in the Hudson, and for Hicks is a welcome return to the world of webcomics from which she debuted twelve years ago. Friends with Boys will be the Canadian cartoonist’s fourth graphic novel, and first one writing and drawing with First Second. With her work on Friends with Boys already complete, she’s already started on her next projects.
Newsarama: Erin, followers of you online have seen you write about Friends of Boys for some time now. What can you tell us about it?
Faith Erin Hicks: Friends With Boys is about Maggie, a homeschooled girl with three brothers entering her first year of public high school. I was homeschooled and have three brothers, so it's a little bit autobiographical. Except for the stuff with the ghost and crazy punk friends. Anyway, Maggie gets into various socially awkward scrapes, and because it's a comic by me, it will contain two things: 1) zombies and 2) someone will, at some point, get punched in the face.
Nrama: We’d expect no less. Tell us more about Maggie – what’s she like?
Hicks: She's a girl into boy things, very comfortable in her little homeschooled bubble surrounded by her gang of brothers, but with high school looming, she's forced to deal with the real world, and the realities of being a social teenager. She's also reeling from the separation of her parents, which has changed the dynamic of what was previously a happy family ... my parents separated for about three years while I was in college (they eventually reconciled), so I threw a lot of the sense of wrongness I had during that time into Maggie. It's a disconcerting feeling when your family dissolves, and Maggie has to come to terms with not being able to fix things, something that she's pretty terrible at. She's also apparently not fazed by scary movies, having seen Alien once a year since she was 10. I would like to state for the record that Alien is a terrifying movie and no 10 year old should see it.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier she gets involved with a ghost – how does that happen?
Hicks: It starts stalking her, for reasons unknown. Maggie considers it a bit of a pest, and gets it into her head that if she helps the ghost move on to the afterlife, it'll maybe bring about some good in Maggie's life. Of course, things go pretty disastrously...
Nrama: Although you can’t show off full pages yet, you sent us some great sketches of Maggie and the gang. Since you’ve been working on this book, and this character, for so long, tell us how you got to find the right way to draw Maggie and how to act her out on the page?
Hicks: When I first pitched Friends With Boys to First Second's editorial direction (the dashing Mark Siegel), he looked at Maggie's character design and said "this is a very good drawing of you," and I shrieked "it's not me!" and curled up in a fetal position on the floor. But Maggie's hair is very similar to how I wore my hair during college, so I guess she looks like me about six years ago, or something.
Nrama: The format of this – serializing it online – is a return of sorts for you, as you got your start doing online comics with Demonology 101 years ago. What’s it like to come back into this method of release?
Hicks: I really hope it's going to be great. I very much enjoy interacting with readers online. I like the feedback; sometimes readers respond strongly to things or characters that I didn't think they'd enjoy, and that makes me take a second look at why that particular part of the comic resonated and make a note of it. It's very cool, being able to reach your readers directly through the internet and I'm thrilled First Second is allowing me to put this comic online. Also, speaking from personal experience, online comics are very important to people who want to read comics but don't have the good local resources (a good, girl-friendly comic book store, a well-stocked local library) that allow them to do so. For a very long time all I read were online comics, and they opened up a whole new world to me: I saw that comics didn't have to be only superheroes, or drawn a specific way. They could be anything. I hope that somewhere some 14 year old will come to that conclusion (the same one I did when I discovered webcomics) when they get the chance to read Friends With Boys online. And then maybe they'll ask for a hard copy of Friends With Boys for Christmas or something. Fingers crossed.
Nrama: When do you think it will start online, and what will the schedule be?
Hicks: Friends With Boys should start in July. We're planning for a page a weekday update schedule (five pages a week), and it'll run until the book is published in February. I love it when my favorite sites update a lot, so hopefully people will enjoy the frequent updates. I'll be blogging along with the updates, which I'm looking forward to. A lot of research and development went into this book, plus there's weird easter eggs scattered throughout the comic, and it'll be fun to point stuff like that out to the readers.
Nrama: When you did online comics before you did more than just post a page – you had a real conversation with readers. Will you be doing that with this project?
Hicks: I hope so! This will be a different situation than when I ran my old webcomic Demonology 101, though. Because I was writing and drawing Demonology 101 as I was posting it, I could alter plotlines and character development in response to reader feedback, whereas Friends With Boys is already finished, so that won't be happening. Not to say I did major alterations to Demonology 101 because of reader feedback, but sometimes a character would lose his shirt because I knew readers thought he was hot ... that kind of thing. But I'm very excited to see how readers respond to certain points in Friends With Boys.
Nrama: Although this is the next project that fans will see, you’re already working on a follow-up called Voted Most Likely. What is that about?
Hicks: Voted Most Likely is an adaptation of an unpublished Young Adult novel, written by Linda Shen. It's this crazy, over the top high school story about two guys who get caught up in a cutthroat student body president election, and the fallout in their relationship because of that election. I was drawn to the story not only because it's very funny, but also because it's a different take on jock/nerd relationships. The main character, Charlie, is athletic and popular at school, but he's also depressed over his parents' divorce and terrified of his cheerleader ex-girlfriend. His friend Nate is a nerd, but also aggressive and ambitious and the kind of person who goes out and gets what he wants, which is probably why poor repressed Charlie likes him. There are also combat robots and KGB cheerleaders. It's a fun story.
Nrama: You received your college degree in Animation, but you’ve made a living and a name for yourself in comics. Why is that? Is comics what you always wanted to do, or has it bounced between that and animation?
Hicks: Honestly, I just wanted to make a living doing some kind of art. I haven't been drawing very long. I put the first page of Demonology 101 online in 1999, and that's pretty much when I started drawing. I've never felt particularly talented at drawing, or like it was something I was born to do. I wanted to train horses or be a veterinarian when I was a kid. The drawing thing is very new, and kind of scary. I fell in love with drawing while I was working on Demonology 101, and wanted to make it my job, and I thought that animation was one of the few fields where I could do that. Unfortunately animation turned out to be something else all together, and not really what I wanted to do, so I feel very blessed that I've been able to find a way to make drawing comics my full time job. It combines something I feel I'm good at (writing, storytelling) with something I'm constantly working to improve (drawing).
Nrama: So this is your second book in a working relationship with FirstSecond. What’s that relationship like?
Hicks: It's pretty great. I love working with First Second. Granted, I haven't worked with many publishers, but I can't imagine a better publisher. All the people involved with First Second really seem to love comics, which are the kind of people you want to work with when you make comics. They also bought me dinner and breakfast on separate occasions, and I'm very fond of people who give me free food.
Nrama One thing that has changed since you started doing work for FirstSecond is that you’re drawing other people’s stories while before FirstSecond you almost exclusively did your own stories. Can you talk about that change, and what work you might be doing on the side that’s you writing and drawing?
Hicks: I think the big thing that changed is that my art got good enough that people started paying me to draw. Previous to, oh, 2008, nobody really wanted me to draw anything for them. Which was fine by me, because I much prefer to write my own stories. It's funny, I remember recently seeing a friend complain on twitter that she had so little time to draw her own stories, because everyone wanted her to draw their stories. Of course they do! She's a good artist. But being a not-so-good artist worked out well for me, because I was left alone to develop my own stories and my own comics voice, so I feel now that I'm a much stronger creator than if I'd spend the last 10 years illustrating other people's scripts. I have very emphatic opinions on things like timing in graphic novels, which is why doing Voted Most Likely is so great, because I'm adapting the comic from a manuscript and can set my own pace.
Other than my work with First Second, I'm writing and drawing The Adventures of Superhero Girl, which I've published as a webcomic online here. If you're lucky enough to live in Halifax , Nova Scotia , you'll see it in the free weekly newspaper The Coast every week. I'm also going to be drawing a series of young reader comics with J. Torres starting very soon, which is very cool. Otherwise, I'm just going to continue to write and develop my own stories on the side, and hopefully some of those stories will find their way to publication. Or at least the Internet.