Faith Erin Hicks, 28, burst onto the comics scene last year with Zombies Calling, a fun take-off on the “rules” of horror movies that was published by SLG. This month’s issue of Previews includes her latest work, The War at Ellsmere, which is about “queen bees and mythological beasts” at a girl’s boarding school.
I interviewed the Canadian creator over email to find out more about her background, the new book and what she thinks about “comics for girls.”
JK: When did you decide you wanted to make comics for a living?
Faith: I … uh, don’t yet make comics for a living. Maybe someday! That’s a question I ask any full-time cartoonist I happen to bump into: how do you make a living wage doing this? So far the answers have been varied. And the term “living wage” gets me laughed at a lot. Not many make a living wage.
But as for the WANTING to make a living from comics, it’s a fairly recent goal. I have a background in animation and writing. In university I was an English major and wanted to be some sort of writer (what kind, exactly, I never discovered), then fell in love with drawing towards the end of university and ended up getting in to Sheridan College’s classical animation program after that. So I’ve been working in the animation industry, off and on, for the past four years, and drawing comics on the side.
JK: So you have a day job, then?
Faith: Yes. I work for an animation studio in Halifax called Copernicus. There are things I like about animation, so I don’t think I will ever completely leave it behind for comics.
JK: How did you get started in the comics business?
Faith: I started out doing online comics in 1999. I was not remotely interested in publishing back then. I just had stories to tell and the internet was a convenient and free way to tell those stories. I also really wanted to learn how to draw (I didn’t start drawing until I was in university, god knows why), and comics are a great way to learn. They force you to draw characters from all angles, backgrounds, composition, fight scenes … Anyway, when I was done with online comics, I’d completed over 800 pages of them. You can still find the comics I’ve done online, in all their mawkish glory.
Eventually I decided I wanted to try and do the publishing thing, and sent off a pitch package to my favorite publisher, SLG Publishing. They published my first graphic novel, Zombies Calling, which won a Joe Shuster Award and managed to sell at least 13 copies, making it a success by indie standards.
JK: The War at Ellsmere is about Juniper, a recent transfer to a boarding school. Did you attend boarding school?
Faith: No, I was home-schooled until high school. Which gets me strange looks, so I’d like to assure everyone my parents are not religious nuts who thing everything’s gone to hell since they took prayer out of school. Most of the competitive atmosphere of Ellsmere was inspired by my time at Sheridan College.
JK: What can we expect in the new book? What I’ve read about it suggests a fantasy element, combined with the boarding school conflicts.
Faith: The book has a lot in it. In places it’s a sweet story about friendship and struggling through challenging social situations, but the story also takes a dark turn later on, and climaxes with a scary confrontation. And there is also rumored to be a monster in the forest next to the school, so … you can draw your own conclusions there. I like a bit of action in my stories, even though they may be about friendship and enemies and real life situations. I look at a show like Gilmore Girls, and I think, “What an awesome show! I love the character interaction! But having the inhabitants of Star’s Hollow stalked by zombies would be even better!”
JK: I know myself and several of my fellow bloggers are fans, but how did Zombies Calling do overall?
Faith: Critically it seemed to do fine. I saw a lot of positive things said about it, and what constructive criticisms there were I tried to apply to my work on Ellsmere. The main criticism of Zombies Calling that I got was that it was too short. Nobody really had anything bad to say about my artwork, which really surprised and encouraged me. I’ve been told my art isn’t up to par in the past, and I’ve struggled to make it better.
Sales-wise, I have no idea. SLG hasn’t told me how many copies it’s sold, and I’m too chicken to ask.
JK: Now that you’ve had the experience of having your first published book reach a fairly wide audience, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Faith: Yes and no. Looking back on it, I think I did everything I could with Zombies Calling in order to make it the best book I was capable of, at the time. But now a year has passed and I wish I could revisit it with this year’s artistic growth and knowledge. But I think that’s just the way it is with artistic work.
JK: Besides your SLG projects, you’ve also done webcomics and some stuff for your local paper as well, correct? What can you tell me about them?
Faith: The very first comic I did was Demonology 101, a giant sprawling Buffy the Vampire Slayer rip off that started in 1999 and wrapped up in 2004. Doing that comic was basically how I learned to draw. I followed it up with Ice, a mature-themed post-apocalyptic comic which I unfortunately have yet to finish (published work takes up my time now). Early this year I got the chance to do a 12 week newspaper strip for my local paper, the Halifax Chronicle Herald. It was about a girl and her six brothers and the Abominable Snowman, for extra wackiness. You can find all of these things online at my website: www.faitherinhicks.com.
Although be prepared for some genuinely bad art here and there. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. But at least I DID it. I hear a lot from people about how they’re intimidated by starting a comic project, and how they don’t think they’ll have the skills … y’know, you waste a lot of time doing that. Just start the bloody thing, and you’ll learn as you go.
JK: With the recent demise of Minx, there’s been a lot of talk about “comics for girls.” As a female creator and fan, what are some of your favorite comics?
Faith: First of all, I’d like to say I’m very sad Minx is dead. I think a lot of the people involved with that imprint were very genuine in their motivations, and I think the line produced some very good books. I think it’s crazy Minx was axed after only a year and a bit. I did a pitch for Minx last year, and I would have loved to have been published by them. Here’s hoping the cancellation of the line will not contribute to the crap opinion that Girls Don’t Read Comics. That’s stupid and people should know it.
When I first started out looking for comics to read, what I could find that was appealing to me was very limited. And I say this as a geek who loves action movies, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, that sort of thing. I think a lot of comic readers don’t realize how unfriendly the comic books are to those who haven’t grown up with comics, and just want something with a beginning, middle and end to read. I very much wanted contained stories, and desperately wanted female leads. And when I say “desperately,” I mean it. I LONGED for comics, and would submit myself to the ickiness of this crappy, grungy, terrifying local comic store in order to get them. Later, in university, I found a much better store and bought trade paperbacks from them, which made me much happier. Here’s what I read back in the day, and would still recommend:
Anything by Andi Watson. He is brilliant. The very first graphic novel I ever bought was Geisha by him. SLG’s Skeleton Key series was why I decided to bother them about publishing Zombies Calling. I would recommend other series by them, like Nightmares and Fairytales and Gloomcookie. They publish good stuff.
I fell in love with Bone when I found a tattered copy of volume three at a local bookstore, and still consider it one my most favorite things. Bone is glorious, and contains two interesting, strong female leads, and Jeff Smith is a god for creating it. I will always recommend Bone whenever a new comics reader asks me what they should check out.
So that’s the older stuff. Now there’s a much wider variety of comics readily available to those without a good local comic store to go to, and a lot more female cartoonists out there to look up to. I’m encouraged by the way things seem to be going for cartoonists, but there’s still a lot to do.
JK: Based on what we’ve seen from you so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that Minx pitch show up somewhere else down the line.
Faith: Yeah, if we were having this conversation face to face, I’d be nodding and winking at you while saying “I wouldn’t be surprised, either!”