Peter Howard Interviews Faith Erin Hicks
Faith Erin Hicks is one of Canada’s brightest comic book creators. She came into prominence producing a series of well-crafted web comics like Demonology 101 and The Adventures of Superhero Girl, and transitioned into print working for companies like Dark Horse, Slave Labor and First Second.
Faith’s talent is a welcome addition to the comics community.
Peter Howard: What is your earliest memory of reading a comic book? Do you remember the title? Was it love at first sight?
Faith Erin Hicks: Like all good Canadian children, I grew up reading Tintin and Asterix. They were my favourite books as a kid, and that’s probably where my initial love of comics came from. I learned to read on Tintin and Asterix comics. But for a while, especially during my teenage years, I was kind of ashamed of my attraction to comics. I thought it was weird, something girls weren’t really supposed to be into.
PH: At what point in your life did you discover your artistic ability?
FEH: I liked drawing horses when I was a kid, but I was more of a writer when I was a teenager (although I did take art in high school. It was mostly copying photographs). I wrote lots of really crappy short stories when I was younger. Then for some reason I started drawing pictures of the characters in my stories, and eventually transitioned into making comics.
PH: Did you always want to draw comics or did you aspire to work in another field?
FEH: I actually wanted to be an animator. I went to college for animation, and worked in the animation industry for four years after graduation. I really thought that animation would be my career and comics would just be something I did for fun. Then in 2008 I lost my job in animation and couldn’t find another. But by that time I’d started making a little money in comics and decided to see how long comics would support me. And that was five years ago. I’m very thrilled and very, very surprised that comics are my job.
PH: How did you come to the decision to produce indie-style comics—Friends With Boys, for example—rather than, for example, comics that are largely about superheroes?
FEH: There are some superhero comics that I find appealing, the new Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye comic, for example, but mostly I don’t care for how superhero comics are written and drawn. I discovered Bone by Jeff Smith over ten years ago and he’s been pretty much my largest creative influence. When I read Bone, I thought, “Finally! A comic made for me as a reader!” So I set out to make comics like Bone, at least in drawing style and pacing.
PH: What artists have made the greatest impact on you and your work? Why?
FEH: Jeff Smith, Naoki Urasawa (Pluto, 20th Century Boys) and Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist) are my greatest comic influences. They just click with me. They tell great, character-driven stories, and draw in a way that is appealing and modern.
PH: Are there aspects of your craft that you find particularly challenging or that you’re always trying to improve upon?
FEH: Every element of comics is challenging to me! Every page I draw is new and scary and I’m always looking to improve. There’s no one thing I’m struggling with, I struggle with EVERYTHING.
I want to be Jeff Smith when I grow up, not Stan Lee.
PH: Would you mind giving our readers a little insight into your typical work habits? How many hours a day do you spend at your drawing board? How do you breakdown a page of art?
FEH: I wake up around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., depending on how late I stayed up the night before, check the internet and then go jogging. After my exercise, I shower and dress for the day. I know people who work in their pajamas, but I need to be dressed to focus. I try to be at my drawing desk around 10 o’clock, although it’s usually more like half past. I work until noon and take a half hour lunch. Then I work until I have to make supper (around 6:00 p.m.) and take a break to eat and see my boyfriend. Then I’m back at the drawing desk until I go to bed, usually around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m.. It’s a long day. I do this 6 days a week. I take Saturdays off, unless I’m hard up against a deadline.
PH: Are you a traditional artist who uses pencil, pen, ink and brush or do Photoshop and the Cintiq dominate your work methods? Do you alternate between the one set of tools and the other?
FEH: I work traditionally—pencil, paper, ink and brushes. I’m not averse to working digitally, I just don’t have a Cintiq. Maybe someday!
PH: Your involvement in The Last of Us graphic novel adaptation of the new videogame struck me as a new direction for you. Would you agree? What was your role in the production and how did it come about?
FEH: Yeah, that was different. The Last of Us: American Dreams was my first licensed comic, which was a real change from all the creator owned comics I’ve made. It was also a monthly comic rather than a graphic novel, so that was a new challenge for me. I drew and co-wrote the comic with Neil Druckmann, who was the creative director on The Last of Us game. The comic was a great way to enhance the game experience, but it’s also a comic that can stand on its own; you don’t necessarily need to play the game to enjoy the comic. As for how I got the job, I was approached by Dark Horse about doing it, and jumped at the chance. It’s a story about teenage girls in a post-pandemic society, and I love that kind of story.
PH: In addition to the obvious difference in format, do you see essential differences between web comics and traditional comics? Does making web comics afford any specific professional benefits? For example, do your drawings skills develop faster when you’re beholden to a specific deadline? Does your fan base broaden more quickly by having a presence on the net?
FEH: For me, the most important difference between webcomics and traditionally published comics is that with webcomics no one is going to tell you no. You can do whatever kind of comic you like on the internet, and because there’s no one fronting the money to produce that comic, it allows more unconventional comics to develop outside the framework of publishing. And I think that’s really great! I owe my entire career to the internet. If I hadn’t had the web to basically test my skills on, I’m pretty sure I would not be doing comics. As for webcomics affording specific professional benefits, well, I think the benefit is that it gives the creator ultimate control over their work, for good or ill; there are some great webcomics out there, and there are also a ton of terrible ones. Creators can develop their own creative industries without the help of a publisher. Personally I really like working with publishers because they do the stuff in comics I’m not really interested in (the actual publication, marketing, selling to bookstores, etc), leaving me more time to make comics. But I tremendously respect those who go their own way, and make their own self-publishing web-based industries. And yes, I think every creator benefits from having a web presence, provided you can use well. I like interacting with readers, but I know that not everyone is really into that.
PH: I read that you were homeschooled. Do you think being homeschooled had an impact on your creativity?
FEH: My parents probably think so. I don’t know…possibly. You have a lot more time on your hands when you’re homeschooled, and I tended to spend that time either reading (I grew up without a television or game console) or making up my own stories.
PH: We have seen our comic book heroes become alcoholics and murders; some say that superheroes have lost their way. Do agree with that assessment? Has the content of comics matured since the 60s and 70s?
FEH: Haha! I’ve no idea. I haven’t really read any comics from the 60s or 70s, and I only read superhero comics that I like nowadays. I have no real historical context for superhero comics. I don’t really care for grim n’ gritty stuff, though, so if that’s what I perceive a Superman or Batman comic to be, I just won’t read it. I’m not really attached to the characters the way some readers are. I like a good Superman comic, but I can take or leave him.
PH: What changes, if any, must be made to the comics market to ensure its existence in another 20 years?
FEH: Comics need to do a better job of embracing diversity. We need more creators of different backgrounds creating comics that reflect the diverse world we live in. Comic publishers should reach out to libraries and schools and do their best to get their comics into the hands of young readers. The hope is that If you get someone reading comics when they’re young, they will possibly continue to read them when they reach adulthood.
PH: Is there a comic book character that you dream of drawing one day? Is there a title over which you would love to have complete unfettered control?
FEH: Nah. I like doing my own stories. There are some characters at DC and Marvel that I’m fond of, but I can’t really see sinking years of my life into working on those characters. I like my own characters, and I want to spend time with them. I want to be Jeff Smith when I grow up, not Stan Lee.