At TCAF 2010, I was lucky enough to get to sit down with Faith Erin Hicks, the comic and webcomic artist and writer behind a number of works including the long-running online comic, Demonology 101, as well as Zombies Calling, for which Hicks won a Joe Shuster Award. We discussed her older works and upcoming projects, working in Canada, and being a nerd. While I’ve been a fan of her work for some time, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is such thing as true artistic integrity.
Nerd Girl Pinups: When did you first start creating comics?
Faith Erin Hicks: Eleven years ago now. I was in school, and I was really bored. I didn’t grow up reading comics, because they weren’t accessible the way they are now. Libraries and comic book stores didn’t have what I wanted to read. So I started reading comics online, and I thought, “oh, I think I’ll learn how to do comics,” which was sort of weird, because I didn’t know how to draw. So I started putting comics online, and ten years later actually ended up working full time in comics and now that’s how I pay my rent. So, lots of hard work and yay, kids, comics!
NGP: Do you find that living in Canada made it more difficult to get started in comics, or does the internet make things like geographic location less relevant?
FEH: Yeah, I think it is less relevant. I’ve lived in Canada pretty much all my working life. I’ve never seen moving to the States as necessarily an advantage. My publisher is in New York. SLG, the first publisher I worked with, is in California. It never really mattered where I lived. Wherever you have friends, wherever you want to make a life for yourself, that’s really all that matters. I will say, when I started getting paid by publishers, I had to deal with the IRS and getting an international tax ID number. Man, the IRS is terrifying. That’s the only downside of working in Canada. You have to deal with the IRS.
NGP: Going way back, to when I first got into your work, you had a huge hit with the long-running Demonology 101. How did you develop that story, and was it hard to decide to bring it to an end after working on it for five years?
FEH: Yeah, it was tough. It came about at the right time. I worked on it all throughout post-secondary, then I just decided, “I’m graduating, I need to find work.” I needed to move on with my life, and that helped with ending it. Even now, six years after it’s over, I still miss it. It was just a fun, enjoyable soap opera, and I really got invested in the characters, and I think my readers did, too. As for where it started or how I developed it, I just think it came together organically. I was doing it for myself, I didn’t have anyone telling me I had to do something a certain way. So it was like, I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m going to do something like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic. Then I sort of grew out of that, but I liked other things, so I put that in my comic. It was just something that came about very organically.
NGP: You’ve had two books published by Slave Labor Graphics. How did your relationship with them start?
FEH: I sent them a pitch. They are one of the few publishers out there that allow unsolicited submissions to be sent to them. On their website, there’s a very handy guideline to follow if you want to send them a pitch. Follow that guideline, send them a package, and keep your fingers crossed. And that’s what I did. After Zombies Calling came out, and they liked that, they were very interested in whatever else I wanted to publish with them. Dan Vado, the head guy there, was like, “okay, so if you’d like to publish more, just let us know, and we’ll publish more.” So, that was pretty much how that came around. Just send them a pitch.
NGP: That’s awesome.
FEH: And don’t suck.
NGP: Your stories often largely deal with fantasy and the supernatural. Where did your love of this genre come from?
FEH: Oh, well, I just think I’m a nerd, you know? It just feels strange, because when I was a kid, I was really into science fiction and things with big ideas, and I’m realizing now that stuff can be mundane. Stuff can be based in the real world and still be exciting and interesting. I do really enjoy a story with something weird or creepy going on, or fight scenes. I love fight scenes. It seems like a rule that in every book, I have someone get punched in the face. I think it comes from being a little nerd kid, and still enjoying that as an adult.
NGP: Zombies Calling obviously demonstrates a love and knowledge of zombie films. What are your favourite zombie movies?
FEH: I would say 28 Days Later. But 28 Days Later is not a zombie movie! I know people give me crap about this all the time, but 28 Days Later was actually the original inspiration for Zombies Calling. I saw that movie and really enjoyed it. I’ve always been kind of a chicken about scary movies and that one really clicked with me. And after I watched it, I was like, damn, I want to do that, but I want it to be funny. ‘Cause it scared me at the same time. After I saw that, I started getting into more zombie horror. I like the original George Romero stuff; his stuff is great. Yeah, it’s definitely 28 Days Later and the George Romero stuff. I know that’s such a cliché to say, but they’re classics. Those are genuinely good movies. Everyone should watch them.
NGP: A lot of your stories are based around being in school. Have your school experiences factored into the development of any of the stories?
FEH: Oh, definitely. Zombies Calling was very much inspired by graduating from university and college, and being like, “oh my god, I have a mortgage, basically. I owe so much in student loans, and I don’t understand why, and it’s not fair!” But it’s funny, because with the exception of my webcomic, Ice, all of my stories have been about being at school. I’m working on my second book now for First Second, which is again about a girl at school, and I feel like, that’s it. But school is a big part of our lives. I was in school for a really long time, up until five years ago. I feel like that was where I was in my life; that was what I wanted to write about. Now, I want to write about people in crappy jobs. Not that my job is crappy! I like my job, don’t get me wrong. But that has been a part of my life that I worked through, and now I’m ready to move on.
NGP: Ice started prior to working with SLG, what does the timeline of its completion currently look like?
FEH: I’m really hoping to get back on Ice and devote a full month to finishing it, because it’s quite close to the end. The majority of the story is over, I just have to wrap things up and finalize it. My plan for Ice is to finish it over the summer, and what is online will stay online. SLG is hopefully going to publish a collection of the story. However, I have decided that I would like to redo the first thirty-five pages of it, and that would be offered as an incentive for print. So there will be two versions of Ice, the main one online and the print version, which will be slightly different.
NGP: Do you see that happening with Demonology?
FEH: No. SLG actually offered and I turned them down. I don’t feel comfortable putting it in print form. It started online. I just don’t feel comfortable asking people to pay for it. For me, it was how I learned to draw. I just don’t feel comfortable asking people to pay for it.
NGP: What can you tell us about your current projects Brain Camp and Friends with Boys?
FEH: Brain Camp is published by First Second, which is an amazing publisher, and it will be out in August. It was written by a pair of New York writers, Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan. They’re amazing; this is their second book for First Second. It’s funny, because I did Zombies Calling, which is a horror book, and then I followed that up with The War at Ellsmere, which is so not a horror book – it’s about girls at school. But I think people who enjoyed Zombies Calling will enjoy Brain Camp, because it’s spooky, it’s scary, it’s actually a little similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Except it’s aimed at grade school children, so it’s not so horrible and violent as John Carpenter’s The Thing. But that was what sold me on the script, because I quite like that movie. The book that I’m currently writing and drawing for First Second is called Friends with Boys. It is about a girl who has three brothers, as I do, who was home schooled until high school, as I was, and she sees a ghost, and I have never seen a ghost. And it is not autobiographical at all – yeah, right! It is a little bit based on my experiences going into high school and the culture shock that goes along with that. It’s a story about people dealing with family issues. And of course, because it’s written and drawn by me, someone will get punched in the face. It’s also zombies, although not zombies you’d expect. It’s going to be 2012 before it comes out. I’m talking with First Second about possibly putting it online, we’ll see what happens with that.
NGP: Previously, you had drawn and written all your own comics, and Brain Camp was your first collaboration where someone else was writing and you were drawing. Did you enjoy the process of collaboration, and do you have any plans to collaborate with any other artists or writers in the future?
FEH: I don’t know. If Jeff Smith came up to me and said, “You! I would like to work with you!” Of course, my god, it’s Jeff Smith. Honestly, I prefer to do my own work. That’s just where my heart lies as a creator. But working with Laurence and Susan on Brain Camp was really great. They were very laid-back, they didn’t restrict me, and I really appreciate that. It was definitely a different process from doing my own work. It was also my first time working with First Second, which was very nerve-wracking. They’re an amazing publisher, which is why it was so nerve-wracking! It was like, “oh my god, I’m working with this amazing publisher! Do they really want me? Why?” It was a good experience. It was also stressful.
NGP: What advice would you give to an aspiring webcomic artist?
FEH: Updates! Do regular updates. That was what made Demonology 101 as successful as it was. And, I guess sometimes people have this idea, “I’m going to start a webcomic, I’m going to get famous – internet famous – I’m going to make money.” That probably won’t happen. I wouldn’t be drawing comics full time if it wasn’t for my webcomic, but I’ve never made money off my webcomic. And in the past ten years, I’ve drawn fourteen hundred pages of comics. I’ve been paid for four hundred pages. I’ve been paid a living wage for a hundred and fifty pages. Obviously, I didn’t get rich, but I like to think of webcomics as investing in yourself as a creator. You’re putting your work out there. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. You might become internet famous. You might get rich. You might be the next Kate Beaton. Who knows, right? But that didn’t happen to me. I think it’s something worth doing. That’s what every webcomic creator should be see it as. As something worth doing.