I’ve been a fan of Faith Erin Hicks‘s books since my stint on Great Graphic Novels for Teens when the committee championed her book War at Ellsmere. We loved the story of two friends at boarding school and shared our surprise at the supernatural twist at the end. (We had a lot of fun discussing how we would blurb the book; our unofficial annotation was, “Great, great, great, great, WTF?, great.”) So when the opportunity came along to ask Faith a few questions, I jumped at the chance.
You see, I’ve been following Friends With Boys, Faith’s newest graphic novel, online. She and her publisher First Second have been posting pages daily, and as I write this, the story is just about to reach its climax. It’s really good! And possibly her best work to date. The print edition of Friends With Boys will be released on February 28th. First read this interview, then take a look at the webcomic, then rush, RUSH, to preorder a copy of the book for your library. You won’t be sorry.
Friends With Boys opens on Maggie’s first day in a regular high school after years of being homeschooled by her mother. Her three older brothers offer support, but for the most part, Maggie is left to figure things out for herself. You were homeschooled until you started high school, too. How much of Maggie’s experience those first few days of school is autobiographical?
A lot of Maggie’s terror at being in public school for the first time is autobiographical. After being homeschooled, I had no idea how to act in a school full of other teenagers. My school had this big open locker bay, which was were most of the lockers were, as well as administration offices, and I was terrified of it. It was huge and open and full of teenagers all of whom had eyes and could possibly notice me! It’s weird thinking back on it and remembering how terrified I was.
You’ve said that being homeschooled is what helped develop in you a love of stories and storytelling that otherwise might not have emerged. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
As weird as it sounds, being bored can be great for creativity. I had a lot of time on my hands as a homeschooler (didn’t have to commute, didn’t have much in the way of homework, didn’t have a TV or a Nintendo), and liked making up stories to entertain myself. I had a whole book series planned out when I was 11. It was about an alien world and a girl fighting an evil force with the help of a flying unicorn and flying puppies … no idea why everything had to fly, but for some reason it did. Anyway, I didn’t have a TV and had a lot of free time, so I did a lot of reading. Reading was my entertainment. Since I read a lot, I started thinking, “Hey, this looks easy! I can write stories too! Now I’m going to write the stories that I want to read.” Which apparently involved a lot of flying unicorns and puppies.
All of the stories you write have an element of fantasy to them; zombies, unicorns, ghosts, and even superheroes. What is it about stories like these that appeal to you? Were there books you read as a child that inspired you to write stories with a bit of a supernatural twist?
I absolutely loved science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid. I would go comb the library shelves for the books with a little Saturn symbol on their spine, because they were the science fiction and fantasy books and they were my favourite. I can’t really put my finger on why I was drawn to that genre, but it probably had to do with those books usually being focused on world-building, mystery and adventure, and less on … well, romance and relationships. I was vehemently anti-romance as a kid. Romance was gross. Now that I’m a cartoonist, I’m still drawn to stories that have that genre twist. I love the idea of there being more to the world than what we can see and touch. And romance is still gross (just kidding).
My favourite authors growing up were Lloyd Alexander (I loved him so much I named characters in Friends With Boys after him), Zilpha Keatley Synder, Diana Wynne Jones, and Jane Yolan. I was also madly in love with a science fiction book by Pamela F. Service called Under Alien Stars (I think I read it 50 times, but never read anything else by her, oddly enough), and the Birth of the Firebringer trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce. That one was all unicorns, so it was a big deal for 11 year old me.
Frequently on Twitter you’ve mentioned that drawing is hard for you and you often don’t like the way your finished art looks on the page. What keeps you motivated to create new graphic novels when the process is such a struggle?
I started doing online comics years and years ago, and even though comics are really hard to create, I fell in love with making them. With comics you have to learn how to draw everything really well. It’s not just drawing people, comics are backgrounds and props and cars and animals and learning to draw these things from all angles and in a style that is appealing and fresh. It’s a constant struggle to update and improve my skills. But even though it’s a struggle, it’s something I really love to do. A well made comic is my favourite thing in the world, and I want to someday be the person who makes that comic and gives a reader enjoyment. It’s like that completely annoying saying: Nothing worth doing is easy to do. Besides, someone has to make comics about flying unicorns and puppies … (Disclaimer: I have not made this graphic novel yet and probably never will. Apologies to 11 year old me.)
All of the graphic novels you’ve had published easily fit into the Young Adult category. I know you’re a big reader of graphic novels (and a huge fan of Fullmetal Alchemist). Do you also read YA prose? What are you reading now that you can recommend? Which webcomics do read that you really hope find an offline publisher?
I’ve been getting into YA recently, and I really like it. There seems to be a lot of stories about characters that appeal to me, boys and girls who strike out on their own and kick butt, often with crazy supernatural stuff going on. I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan a few weeks ago and totally did NOT get all sniffly at the end (lies. I cried). I liked Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld a lot, because I love the whole ‘girl disguises herself as a boy, does awesome things’ genre. I read the Hunger Games trilogy, and loved the beginning but didn’t think much of the ending (I still recommend it, though). The Chaos Walking trilogy was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I have The Scorpio Races on hold at the library right now, and am really looking forward to reading it. Apparently it has killer ponies. Mostly I browse around various YA blogs and see what people are excited about, and if it sounds interesting, I head to my local library to check it out.
As for webcomics, all the ones I read either already have publishers, or are part of vast self publishing empires, so I’ve no idea.
Many thanks to Faith and to Gina Gagliano at First Second for making this interview possible.