Have Some Faith: Faith Erin Hicks and Friends with Boys
Throughout the pages of Friends with Boys, we meet a young heroine who, after a lifetime of being homeschooled, must face the prospect of high school after her mom leaves. What follows is a quietly charming coming-of-age story about friendship, love, identity, and more. Artist and writer Faith Erin Hicks tackles issues big and small with grace and aplomb in the book, which she takes us behind the scenes of here.
When did you first start getting into comics? What drew you to them?
I first started reading comics like Tintin and Asterix when I was a kid. I was always very attracted to the medium (growing up without a TV, I read a lot as a kid), but didn't have a lot of access to it. There was a local comic store in my hometown, but I was scared of it for the usual reasons: It was dark, full of intimidating, unfriendly guys, and only carried superhero comics. Later I discovered online comics and read them voraciously. I started doing my own comics back in 1999, when I was still in school, mostly because I wanted to join the online comic community. And here I am, 12 or 13 years later, making a living from comics.
You attracted a huge following for Friends with Boys. How long did that take, and how did you build up that audience?
Friends with Boys is definitely the most successful online comics I've ever done. I think it took about four months for the comic to hit its current level of readership, and it’s still growing. I saw a huge jump in traffic after the New Year, but I can't quite figure out why. Some days it seems like people just pour into the site; other days I barely crack 8,000 pageviews. Anyway, I think having the frequent update schedule really helped. Who doesn't love frequent updates? Whenever I do a How to Make Comics post, I get a lot of traffic. People really seem to be enjoying my posts about my work process, which is great. And it's helped me work through my thought process as well. Writing down why I do a certain thing solidifies it in my mind. I feel like possibly I could speak about making comics in public!
Now that it’s finished, what do you miss most about Friends with Boys? With such great characters, it must be hard to say goodbye to them.
I miss drawing Lucy a lot. She was so much fun to draw. I miss drawing all the teenage boy characters too…I hadn't had a book with lots of teenage boy characters in it, and my ability to draw them improved a lot over the course of Friends with Boys. Now I'm doing a comic about two teenage guys and their various conflicts, and I really like drawing it.
How rooted in your own life was the plot for Friends with Boys? While it’s not strictly autobiographical, as you’ve noted, at the same time it seems infused with your personality. Are there elements of your own life that you’ve reworked or adapted for the story in some way?
Friends with Boys is very rooted in my own life, but only in the emotional aspect of it. Many of the things Maggie goes through, stress about school, her pain over her parents' breakup, dealing with friends and brothers is very much based on what I went through dealing with those things, but nothing in the book is literally what happened to me. I was homeschooled until high school, but I didn't have punk friends. I experienced family trauma, but didn't try and lay a ghost to rest to feel better about it. I have three brothers, but I'm the oldest, not the youngest like Maggie.
When you began Friends with Boys, did you expect that you would be spending as much time with it as you did?
I didn't think I'd be doing it as a webcomic, but I'm really thrilled First Second has allowed me to put it online. Running the website has been very time consuming, but it's been so worth it. The immediacy of the internet, the ability to interact with your readers can be really amazing. Right now I'm exhausted and frantically trying to make a deadline and working pretty much seven days a week, so the website is added stress, but again, so worth it. Even if I've had to compromise a bit on sleep.
Were you surprised by where the story ended up taking you by the time you finished?
Actually, yeah. I originally thought it would've been a more…I don't know, resolved ending. A little more pat. But I think the ending I eventually wrote is the right ending.
You’ve worked in webcomics for quite some time. Do you see yourself as equally comfortable in both the webcomics and print mediums? Do you think there are tradeoffs involved in working in each?
I like making both print and online comics for different reasons. The huge downside to online comics is that I've never figured out a way to make them pay. I make no money from my online comics, but since I'm working in print as well, and print does pay, I can afford to keep my online comics completely free. I don't know what I'd do if I had to rely on the internet to pay my rent…but hopefully the print industry will continue to want my work and I'll continue to be able to post comics online for free. I think the long-form comics that I want to make (like Friends with Boys) don't tend to work as well on the internet. People tend to want small, short comics that they can pass around to their friends via social media. I'm the same way. If an online comic is long and has a storyline, I'd rather have it in book form so I can sit and read it. But there are successful story-centric online comics out there, so it's certainly possible.
Are the audiences vastly different between webcomics and print? Or are comics fans basically the same no matter where or how they read them?
I can only report anecdotes, but I think the web audience is a bit different. I think you sometimes get webcomic readers who don't consider themselves comic readers, but they read webcomics because they have access to them and they're free. This reader might not pick up a graphic novel at a bookstore, because graphic novels can sometimes be intimidating (the storytelling language of a graphic novel is very different from a prose novel). I think that's a really big deal, getting those readers, and that's the main reason I wanted to put Friends with Boys online. I really believe it can reach a wider audience by going online. And hopefully some of those readers will consider purchasing the book.
Will Superhero Girl be collected in print?
I hope so! I'm creeping up on 100 comics, and I'd like to find a publisher for it someday. I did a tiny self-published Superhero Girl book to sell at conventions, but I don't have the time to do mail order, so it's not widely available. Many people have asked me about a published Superhero Girl collection and hopefully someday I can sucker someone into publishing it so everyone who wants a copy can buy one.
What can you tell us about the future of ICE? What are your plans?
Oh, man, I just want to finish that thing. It's literally 15-20 pages from the end, and I just haven't had the time to finish it. I feel very bad about it. I just want to finish the sucker and leave it there for the internet to find. It's a very old comic. I started it back in 2004!
What other projects are you working on?
Right now I'm working on two graphic novels, an adaptation of an unpublished YA manuscript called Voted Most Likely and a young readers comic series with J. Torres called Bigfoot Boy. Voted Most Likely is so much fun; it's about two guys in high school who have this combative friendship, and how they end up competing against each other in a high school election. It's a ridiculous story, with battlebots and ninja cheerleaders and I really got to stretch my comedy chops. Bigfoot Boy is about a kid who finds a totem in the wilds of British Columbia and it transforms him into…well, read the comic to see. At the moment there are going to be two books in the series, but J. Torres and I are hoping for more. It's really cute, and I think every 8-year-old boy (and many girls) will love it.