Faith Erin Hicks is a Canadian cartoonist who before this year was best known for her webcomics and for two books published by SLG Publishing, “Zombies Calling” and “The War at Ellsmere.” The two books are very different, but are united by the realistic and finely crafted characters and Hicks’ excellent artwork. Hicks’ new book is “Brain Camp,” just released by First Second books. Written by Laurence Klavan and Susan Kim, who spoke with CBR News this spring about the book, it’s Hicks’ first time illustrating someone else’s script.
Hicks also contributed a Nextwave story to Marvel’s “Girl Comics,” and everyone who enjoyed her story there should make a point of checking out the “Wolverine Goes Grocery Shopping” story on her website. Additionally, Hicks has written and completed illustrating a new book for First Second “Friends with Boys” which is scheduled for release in 2012.
She spoke with CBR about “Brain Camp” and more.
CBR: Faith, how did you get involved with :01 and end up illustrating “Brain Camp?”
FAITH ERIN HICKS: First Second emailed me out of the blue one day and said they had a script they needed an artist for, and would I try out. I drew some gross things, and got the job. Yay! Always have a website, kids. You never know who’s looking at it.
You mostly write your own work. What made you agree to draw someone else’s script and what was the experience of working with Laurence Klavan and Susan Kim like?
Drawing someone else’s script is certainly different from your own. On one level, it’s less stressful because you don’t have to worry about why characters do things or plot holes or anything. You just provide the pretty artwork. But on another level, it’s really stressful because what if the book comes out and everyone likes the writing but hates the artwork? I was terrified of that. I guess I wanted the experience of being a “pure” artist, and not leaning so hard on my own storytelling cleverness. I’d got kind of… I don’t know, lax with my artwork in the last few years, letting it slide because I felt like my writing could support the story. “Brain Camp” kicked my art ass all over the place and forced me to really really focus on what makes a good looking comic. I came out the other side a much better artist, and I can really see the improvement in my work. Plus, I got to draw gross things I’d never normally draw.
How detailed a script were you given and how much freedom did you have with regards to the designs and the layouts to really make the book your own?
The script was pretty detailed in terms of what should be drawn. For example, a script page would say how many panels should be on the page, and what should be in those panels. But when it came to the actual artwork, I was left alone, which was nice. So Susan and Laurence would say, “In this panel there are three characters running through the forest,” but the design of the forest and those three characters was left up to me. I particularly like drawing the male lead, Lucas. I wanted him to look a little like a baby Kurt Russell, due to “Brain Camp’s” similarities to John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” one of my favorite movies. Considering how many gross things there are in the book, it certainly brought out a different side of my artwork.
Did you have any fun or entertaining camp experiences to draw from for “Brain Camp?”
Well, like Jenna in the comic, I did get my period in the middle of camp and was too scared to tell anyone about it. But that’s neither fun nor exciting so we’ll just skip it …
Working for :01 is, I would imagine, a different experience from making webcomics and being published by SLG. What has the process of dealing with a publisher been like and how has it changed how your work?
With my webcomics and SLG, I was mostly left to my own devices, to do things as I pleased. SLG did provide some editing, which I was grateful for, but they didn’t have the resources to be really hands-on. It was nice to have a hands-on editor at First Second to challenge me and support the book as I worked on it. I wasn’t sure what that’d be like, but my editor and I ended up working well together. There’s kind of this freedom issue when you come from webcomics and having your own way all the time, you feel skittish working for a “Real Publisher,” and wonder what they’re going to be like. Are they going to try and change you, force you into some kind of comic box, make you draw in a way you dislike? What I’ve learned is that having that editorial support can make you a better cartoonist, and force you to ask the hard questions about your comics, and whether or not something is working.
You’ve also written and drawn another book for :01. Can you tell us what “Friends with Boys” is about?
“Friends with Boys” is about a home-schooled girl entering public high school for the first time, and the various crazy scrapes and fights she gets into. She’s also the only girl in a family of four kids. As an ex-homeschooler with three very large manly brothers, it is a tiny bit autobiographical, but not really. At one point there are zombies. And a ghost.
In what ways has the editorial support been an asset? How has “Friends with Boys” ended up different than it would have if you’d done it on your own?
The main plot didn’t change very much from my original outline, but what did change and sharpen were details here and there. My editor would ask me to look hard at a scene and ask if it was really working, and if I thought it was, I’d have to defend it, and if I couldn’t come up with a defense for it, well, maybe that wasn’t the right approach to that scene. That sounds more aggressive than the actual process, but that’s the basics of it. I can’t really go into more detail without spoiling certain plotlines, unfortunately.
Is there a release date for the book yet?
Nothing official. Maybe 2012? I’m finished drawing it, so I’m hoping it’ll be sooner than that. We’ll see what First Second says.
Switching gears to your other big release this year. How did you end up getting in touch with Marvel and get involved with “Girl Comics?”
Marvel’s (then) talent guy C.B. Cebulski had read my SLG books and liked them enough to ask me to pitch a Wolverine short (the now pretty famous “Wolverine Goes Grocery Shopping” comic). I never heard back about that pitch, but it was passed on to Jeanine Schafer, who was heading up the “Girl Comics” anthology, who asked me to contribute a piece. The funny part of the story starts now: I pitched the short which eventually became my Nextwave story in “Girl Comics” #2, but never heard back. And then I got an email from the owner of my local comic shop, congratulating me on having a comic in the “Girl Comics” anthology, as my name was on the solicitation in “Previews.” I believe my response was: “But I’m not in that comic! … Or at least I don’t think I am.” So I emailed Jeanine to find out what was up, and it turned out that yes, she did want me to do a piece for the anthology, there’d just been a screw up with emails. Anyway, it was a pretty wild “welcome to superhero comics!” experience.
“Wolverine Goes Grocery Shopping,” which can be read in its entirety on your website, is really a great comic. Is there any more Marvel work in the offing for you?
None so far. I’d love to do more Marvel stuff, because getting to do a piece for “Girl Comics” was so much fun, but I’m guessing that wasn’t a typical experience. It’s not very often you get to work with established characters and are told “go do whatever you want!”
What do you like about living in Halifax and what is the comics scene like there?
Halifax is a great little city which, sadly, the talented artists keep leaving because there isn’t much work here. I think there’s only a handful of people in the area who make their living from comics (me, Darwyn Cooke, Steve McNiven, Mike Holmes and Kate Beaton, although she’s leaving for New York in the fall), but there used to be a lot of animation industry here so that overflowed with comics and made the whole community very arty and fun. But sadly, the animation work has completely died off and people have left for greener pastures, so there’s now a big hole where there used to be a vibrant arts community. I am sad about that. Still, I enjoy what’s still here. Halifax has a fantastic local comic store, Strange Adventures, which keeps the city very comics-knowledgeable, and those of us in the area who love comics come together at that store.
You announced on your blog recently that you finished “Friends with Boys.” What’s next for you?
Catching up on sleep! Catching up on “Project Runway” and repeatedly watching the paintball episode of “Community.” At the moment I have a couple of comic projects on the go, but contracts aren’t signed yet, so nothing to announce so far. Fingers crossed everything will work out, because these are really nifty projects.
Any convention plans or big events you’ll be attending this fall?
I’m going to the New York Comic-Con in October! I’m so excited for that. I’ve never been to New York, and I’m looking forward to seeing it for the first time. And meeting the First Second people I haven’t met yet, and Susan and Laurence, who wrote “Brain Camp.” It’ll be a fun trip, I think. I hope I don’t get mugged.