Last week we broke the news that Dark Horse will publish a print edition of Faith Erin Hicks's The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Hicks has always been a very articulate commentator on comics and comics creation, so it seemed like a good opportunity to ask her a few questions about the book and how it evolved.
Robot 6: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Superhero Girl. When did you start drawing it, and what did you have in mind for it at the beginning?
Faith Erin Hicks: I started drawing Superhero Girl at the beginning of 2010. I remember because I was in the midst of moving apartments and trying to scrape out the first comic on a deadline while unpacking all my stuff ... I don't think I even had my drawing desk set up. I'd had the idea of doing a comic about a not terribly successful Superhero Girl for a while, and wanted to do it as a webcomic, but I'd originally imagined it as a story-based comic, as that was what I was used to doing. I'm very attracted to the idea of superheroes, of having powers and ability beyond the usual, and I'd noticed that there weren't many superhero comics made with me as a reader in mind. I like the idea of Supergirl and Wonder Woman, but I can't say I've enjoyed their comics much. So I decided to make a superhero comic for me.
... that actually seems to be how all my comics get started.
How did it change as it went along?
Well, because I was making the comic for The Coast, which is this free weekly newspaper in Halifax, I immediately had to abandon the idea of doing Superhero Girl as a story-based comic, and switch to a gag comic, with a very specific size and format. The Coast basically needed content to go above the phone sex ads at the back of the paper, so the comic had to be something like 3 inches high by 6 inches wide and something that casual readers could pick up and read without knowing a lot about the character or her history. Originally I'd really hoped to keep the comic strictly gag-based, no storylines or anything, but as I went on it became harder and harder to write the comic without any other re-occurring characters or storylines. So I started sticking a few stories in here and there in addition to the one-off gags, and I think that's the format that works best for Superhero Girl. Short, silly stuff and the occasional time traveling, Prime Minister-kidnapping Evil Twin storyline.
At what point did superheroes come into your life, and how do you think that timing affected your view of them?
I first noticed superheroes in my early teenage years, mostly through exposure to that '90s X-Men cartoon. I didn't have a television, but occasionally my dad would bring home a TV and VCR from his workplace and we'd rent movies to watch on the weekend. So my brother and I would go to the local video rental store and rent all these animated shows on VHS, stuff like ReBoot, X-Men and various animes ... we were so cool.
Anyway, I really liked Rogue, 'cause she was cool and could punch things and had a hot boyfriend, so I started looking around for X-Men comics to read. The only comic store I had access to was spectacularly unfriendly to teenage girls, and I was terrified of it, but I would venture into it occasionally to buy X-Men comics. I'm pretty sure the ones I read were at the tail end of the Joe Madureira years, because I remember characters like Marrow and ... actually, can't remember much other than that. I gave up on X-Men after about a year, mostly because I didn't like the inconsistency of the storylines and the constant switching of artists.
The fondest memory I have of reading superhero comics was finding a pile of the Alan Davis/Chris Claremont Excalibur comics in a used bookstore in Ottawa. I loooooved them, and actually took them with me when I moved out of my parents house and into a university dorm (I was so cool). Excalibur was goofy and fun and had great characters like Nightcrawler (swashbuckling version), Kitty Pryde, Rachel Summers, Captain Britain and Meggan. Man, why don't they make fun superhero comics like that anymore? That stuff was the shizz.
Do you read superhero comics now? If so, which ones?
I don't normally follow superhero comics in floppy format, but I'll buy stuff in trade. My old standby is the amazing Batgirl: Year One and the Nextwave books, which are just so so good and I wish there was more like them. I bought the first Glory TPB (by Ross Campbell and Joe Keatinge) the other day, and it was just wonderful, brutal, creative stuff. I've read a couple issues of that purple Hawkeye comic and thought it was pretty amazing. Very nice pacing of the artwork by David Aja.
How is your creative process different when you write and draw the comic yourself, as opposed to working with a writer?
Ha, well, I don't know, really. Probably the drawing part is the same whether or not I write it myself ... well, okay, the pacing is very different. I like decompression and I like acting and I like letting a scene breathe and having the characters act and react to each other within a scene. I've noticed writers tend to compress a little more, and they'll, of course, have characters communicate more to each other, rather than try and convey stuff through emotion. It makes sense a writer would use words more, after all, they're a writer. I got a lot of comments on the "silence" in my recent graphic novel, Friends With Boys, so I guess that's the biggest difference between me working with a writer and me working on my own script: Lots more silence in a script written by me.
You self-published a print edition of this already. How will the Dark Horse edition be different?
The self-published trade I put together only contained about half the Superhero Girl comics, and it wasn't widely available. It was basically something I could take with me to conventions, but I never did mail order or tried to get it into stores. Also, it was black and white, and quite a bit smaller than the Dark Horse collection, which will be in colour and have ALL the comics! And available on Amazon and in comic stores and hopefully bookstores too, so people can actually buy it, and not be disappointed by me not having the time to do mail order ...
And how did self-publishing work out for you?
Haha, I dunno if it was really self-publishing! I just got a book printed up at a local printer and took it to a couple conventions ... I only printed about 200 copies, and most of them are gone. I think I have about 30 copies left, which I'm not quite sure what to do with. Maybe sell them at cost if people want them. But it was fun having this self-published book and I was blown away by how well it sold. Even though it was a collection of comics on the internet, people really wanted to buy it, which was wonderful. I hope people will support the Dark Horse edition in the same way.
You retitled the comic when you self-published that book out of concern about trademark issues. What will this book be called?
Hopefully it'll be called The Adventures of Superhero Girl. I changed the title of the self-published book simply because I didn't know if there'd be issues; I mean, I'm just one tiny person and I have no money, so if the Powers that Be at the Big Two decided my self-pubbed book was an issue, I'd probably have to destroy the books I'd had printed, and be out hundreds of dollars. I paid for the print run myself ... so, whatever, I changed the name just to make my life as stress free as possible. Lord knows, I don't need any more stress.
How did you and Dark Horse find each other?
They found me! My editor, Rachel Edidin, reached out to me, and I, of course, was thrilled to hear from them.
Will you keep the current Superhero Girl archive online?
Far as I know I will. I like to think having the comic online encourages people to pick up the printed book, if they've enjoyed it ...
Do you plan to bring Superhero Girl back online with new adventures?
I hope so! Originally my plans were to go back to regularly updating the online comic (I've since quit making the comic for The Coast; I can't keep up with the regular deadlines anymore) this fall, but I had some wonderful projects dropped in my lap, and I have to focus on them instead ... I'm sad about it, a little! I really enjoy Superhero Girl and her nonsense, and it's so much fun making these short comics that take me a day to do, instead of a year, like my regular graphic novels.
What other comics do you have in the works right now?
My next graphic novel from First Second Books will be out in May 2013. It's called Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and is ... well, it's got a 50-page robot fight scene in it, so it's basically nuts.