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Interview with Faith Erin Hicks

Bigfoot Boy: Into the Woods Friends With Boys

Faith Erin Hicks has drawn a LOT of comics. She began posting Demonology 101 online starting in 1999, and has published several other webcomics and several books since then. Her most recent work is Friends With Boys, and her next will be Into The Woods (Bigfoot Boy Book 1), written by J. Torres, to be released in September 2012.

If you’re headed to Anaheim for ALA Annual this week, you can meet Faith in Artist’s Alley in the Graphic Novel Pavilion in the exhibits. She’ll be at booth 0474. And Robin Brenner will be interviewing Faith on the Graphic Novel Stage on Sunday, June 24th, from 11:00 - 11:30am.

I met her at a Toronto coffee shop to talk about art, perfectionism, our love for Mike Mignola’s BPRD series, and then I got to see her meet her hero.

Gene: Thank you for the guest Unshelved Book Club comic you did for us.

Faith: No problem! It was a lot of fun to do. I’m newly a big fan of Finder. I’d heard about it for years and years but it wasn’t widely available. And then Dark Horse started releasing the early collections as the two volume Finder Library. I think both came out after Finder: Voice. I’d read Finder: Talisman and just not followed up on it.

Gene: Talisman is the one about the book, right?

Faith: Yeah. But then I read Voice and I was just like, “Oh my god, this is amazing! This is such a unique comic.” And then I picked up the libraries and was completely sucked in.

Gene: I came to Finder early, but I think it hadn’t quite hit its stride yet.  But now when I reread those early books I can see Carla Speed McNeil’s genius there. She’s ten times the storyteller I could ever be. When I read it I’m just, “Wow.”

Faith: That was one of the things that surprised me about her work. I started at the end and then read the beginning. The work at the beginning astonished me because of how quickly McNeil found her feet. I don’t know if you’re that familiar with my progression as an artist but I’ve been doing comics regularly since 1999 and I would say that I was not good, not a professional level comic artist, until maybe 2009 or so. I had been drawing for ten years before I felt like I achieved some level of professionalism.

I really started drawing comics because I was interested in learning how to draw.

Gene: Demonology, right?

Faith:  Yeah, it’s my old webcomic. You can still read it online. It’s super old, the art is very not good, and I really started it because I wanted to learn to draw and the bar for participation is very low in comics, especially with the internet. It’s not like it was in the 80s where you have to print your own comics and go to trade shows and that sort of thing. Now it’s like you put your work online, and it’s just there. And you can just build on that.

Gene: I’m living proof of that as well.

Faith: Exactly. I owe my career to the internet, basically.

Gene: Thank god the bar is so low.

Faith: No, it’s great. I was more interested in making a living in animation. I went to Sheridan College’s three year animation program in Oakville, Ontario. It’s very well known for producing very good animators. But through a long course of events I lost my job in animation in 2008 and at that point was developing a relationship with First Second and started getting paid to do comics.  And I’ve transitioned into doing comics full-time.

I went back and counted, and I wrote and drew about 1200 pages of comics before I was ever published. I had two books published by SLG, The War at Ellsmere and Zombies Calling.  

Gene: Are you proud of those books?

Faith:  As an artist who wants to continue to develop my work and continue to improve, I will always be embarrassed by my old work.  It is upsetting to feel that way -- I want to look back on my work with pride, of course.  And I look back and I see the accomplishment of where I have come from, but at the same time it’s like, I wish I could have drawn that better.  It’s hard for me to not look at any work…Friends with Boys I drew in 2010 so it’s technically two years old.  So of course, in two years, I feel like I’ve learned a lot.  But yeah, even work from six months ago, I look at and I’m like, “Oh no!”  

Gene: I like Friends With Boys so much. I talk to artists sometimes, and they worry about the small things, like the perspective in a particular panel or even a line. But those are things that don’t really jump out at anyone else.

Faith: I know. We as artists all have problems with our work. But you have to learn about people engaging with you. I always have people come up at conventions, girls especially, and say,  “Demonology 101 was my first webcomic. I really loved it.” And my response is to say, “I’m sorry. I apologize for the horrible artwork. I apologize for the fact that you were there when I drew my 1000 pages of crappy comics.” But it’s insulting to respond to them in that way because it’s something they enjoyed. So I try to thank them and encourage them to pick up my current work.

Gene: “I hope you have better taste in the future.”

Faith: I look back on those days of making free webcomics and really developing my skills as a cartoonist very fondly. But I wish I had the technical skills I have now.

Gene: I don’t draw. But I was out last night with Matt Holm and Frank Cammuso, and I was telling Frank and Matt that I really want to draw but I’m afraid it will be crappy. And Frank said it’s great that it’s crappy, that when you can draw any style you want or you’re too good that’s the danger. Then everyone expects amazing things from you. He told me that I could draw like complete crap and that would just be the way I draw, and that I should just draw my story and own it.  

Faith: There is a real freedom in that. I understand that because that's why I started drawing comics and why I wasn’t afraid to draw them even though my skills were so rudimentary.  Especially with the internet, I was like, okay, I’m not asking anyone to pay for this. I’m just doing this as a way to tell this story in my head. For those first years where my readership was fairly low I didn’t get people really giving me crap for my crappy artwork. I just had people who enjoyed it.  

Gene: I think the look isn’t as important as we tend to think, as long as readers can tell what’s happening.

Faith: Of course, I do think that if you’re expecting people to pay for a work there’s a certain level of professional ability you must reach. But that’s the joy of webcomics, anyone can do them, anyone can develop their artistic voice.  That’s amazing.

Gene:  You obviously have a perfectionist streak that I hadn’t picked up on before. I see that in my daughter, who I think is a great artist when she lets go and makes comics. But she’s so nervous because of the perfectionism. How do I get her past that streak when it gets in her way?

Faith: I think I developed the perfectionist streak as I became more aware of my work and how it needed to develop. I found drawing very tedious at the beginning, but I didn’t look at my work and feel frustrated or angry the way I do sometimes now. I don’t beat myself up.  At the beginning, though, I was just happy to be drawing. I think that’s something to strive for. It’s just fun. I meet a lot of folks who are very concerned at the beginning with making everything look right. Just do it. Just practice. Learning the wrong way to draw something can help you learn the right way.

Gene: I just read Into the Woods Is this the first time your work has been in color?

Faith: No, but it is the first time I’ve colored my own work. It was a huge learning experience.  Brain Camp was in color, but that was done by someone else, and so was the script. I was brought in as a hired gun to bring their vision to life. Bigfoot Boy was a lot more fun to do because J. wrote it with me in mind. I came on right at the beginning, and he’s a lot of fun to work with.  

Gene:  He’s got a great sense of story arcs, no matter what length he writes.

Faith:  It’s our book but because it’s half his I feel like I can say this: it’s an awesome book. Little kids are just going to go crazy for it. I hope it reaches that audience.

Gene: My favorite superhero as a kid, and probably even now, is Captain Marvel.  I think I always liked it as a kid because Billy Batson is transformed from a child into an adult superhero and had to face a world of responsibility as a kid, but no one knows how young he is.  So I loved it when the boy in Bigfoot Boy transforms into a sasquatch.  For me, it was on.  It plays with nostalgia for me.

Faith:  Little kids are powerless. And then transforming into this beast and you have more power, that’s more attractive. Right now we’re contracted with Kids Can Press for two books in the series.

There’s always a struggle for more graphic novels for kids. The superhero industry is a disaster in that respect and is hugely disappointing to me because I love the idea of superheroes for kids. I’m excited to see Scott Chantler’s books and others.

Gene: What’s your favorite thing about Friends With Boys?  It felt like a very personal book for you.

Faith: Sometimes uncomfortably so. Nothing in the book is literally true. But the emotions in the book are true. I’m not interested in autobiography. I feel like as a writer of fiction I can put something that’s true for me into my fiction. The setting, the houses and stuff, is Halifax. I grew up in a small town outside Toronto and I have three brothers, and my relationship to them is fairly similar to the one in the book. They’re actually younger than me, though. I’d say like 75% of the characters is me and my family, but the remaining 25% is complete fiction.

Gene: What about Into the Woods?

Faith: The wolves!  I’d never drawn wolves or animals or things like that because they’re not usually in my comics.

Gene: You’re reading BPRD. Anything else you want to plug that you’re a fan of?

Faith: I’m a huge fan of Naoki Urasawa -- I’m reading 20th Century Boys now. He is a god to me. The comics are so good I see no point in the movies. I read Cross Game which is a manga about baseball. Yotsuba is amazing!  

I kind of missed the early manga boom, I didn’t have friends who were into it, but I moved to Halifax, and Strange Adventures, my local comic store there, introduced it to me. I started reading Urasawa and will read whatever I find interesting. I fell in love with Full Metal Alchemist -- it sucked me in in a way that I’m not used to.  

At this point our friend Gina, who was helping out with the Toronto Comics Art Festival programming, walked by with Jeff Smith. Jeff is Faith’s hero. She got to meet him and tell him how much Bone had meant to her, how it had changed the way she thought about comics right when she was starting to make them. And then Faith gave Jeff a beautiful picture of Fone Bone and Bartleby that she’d drawn for him. I could tell he was blown away by the picture, but I think Faith was even more excited when he said he enjoyed her comics, too. I wish I’d had a camera, she was glowing.

Gene: I feel so embarrassed that I got to witness that. I’m so sorry.

Faith: Oh my god!

Gene: You had told me how much you wanted to meet him. I was sitting here, trying to look away and trying not to look away.

Faith: Everything I said is true. He changed comics for me. He made comics that I wanted to read, that I wanted to make, and, I just I don’t know I’m completely overwhelmed!  Okay, best TCAF ever. Best convention ever! I got two hugs from Jeff Smith, and he told me he liked my work.

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Ring Force Brian Brown / Rodale Books / $6.99 / 9781609615680 / 1609615689 / Juvenile Fiction / Trade Paper / On Sale: Jul 17, 2012 / Just in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games, Ring Force is an action-packed adventure story for any kid who has ever dreamed of using his or her talents to save the world.