“It’s a classic innocence-to-experience story, where Ellie, who is perhaps a little sheltered (or as sheltered as one can be in the ‘Last of Us’ environment) and thinks she’s got stuff figured out, gets exposed to certain things and discovers that the world’s a lot harsher than she expected,” Hicks said. “She’s going through a very common experience, one we all go through in our teenage years: She’s figuring out just how crappy the world is, and trying to find her own special niche. I think that’s everyone’s experience when they’re 13. Just growing up and learning to deal with shit. It’s a very relatable journey.”
The world that Ellie finds herself in is, however, starkly different from our own. An outbreak has drastically culled the population, and survivors are living under military rule. The world outside the fences is a world in shambles, reduced to rubble and operating by extreme Darwinism. But despite the obvious bleakness of her environment, Ellie’s world is not entirely a hhborrible, hopeless wasteland.
“The ‘Last of Us’ world still has a bit of wonder in it,” Hicks said. “Humanity is horribly ravaged, but the world outside is still as beautiful as it ever was. Buildings and cities are falling into decay, but they’re falling apart in such a beautiful way. I really like that. I don’t like the world being portrayed as a desolate wasteland, which is very common in post-apocalypticÂ fiction. I like to think that even if humanity did have something horrible happen to it, the world would be able to survive and thrive without us.”
Hicks, who is primarily known for her creator-owned work, has embraced the challenge of telling a story in someone else’s world, of a character dreamed into existence by another. While working within the constraints of the “Last of Us” setting provided a challenge, it was welcome one that led to unexpected outcomes.
“When I was writing and drawing ‘Friends With Boys,’ it was me and my editor making that comic the best it could be, and that was it,” Hicks said. “I didn’t have to take into consideration this whole world that had been created by someone other than me. It’s a uniqueÂ challengeÂ trying to be respectful of the world Naughty Dog has created in ‘The Last of Us,’ but at the same time trying to put my own artistic stamp on the comic. Personally, I think we’re succeeding; I’ve been very happy with the comic we’ve produced so far. It can be great fun to be invited into someone else’s sandbox to play with their characters and world-build. Potentially, you end up with something very different than if you’d created a random post-apocalyptic story on your own.”
In stepping into the “Last of Us” to pen “American Dreams,” Hicks worked closely with series co-writer Neil Druckmann, the game’s lead writer. The team of Hicks and Druckmann worked hand-in-hand on the comics, resulting in a partnership which allowed both to contribute to the story while retaining each writer’s personal touches.
“[Neil]’s really good at ratcheting up the tension, and I like bringing humor and character moments to the story, so I think we complement each other pretty well,” Hicks said. “I honestly have no idea how he has the time to work on the game and the comic, but I appreciate the attention he’s given the comic. It truly feels like a proper prequel to the game, something I’m pretty thrilled about. I like video games a lot, and used to want to work in that industry when I was a teenager. It’s so cool I get to contribute to ‘The Last of Us’ world as a comic book artist.”