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Cliques collide in HOCKEY GIRL LOVES DRAMA BOY by FAITH ERIN HICKS


 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Faith, welcome back to the Yeti Cave! Your conversation with Cody of Keeping it Geekly over the work you’ve done on the Avatar series was enlightening. What’s new since you last joined us?



FAITH ERIN HICKS: Not too much! I’m working on finishing up my next original graphic novel, a middle grade book inspired by my experiences at animation school, and I’m looking forward to the release of The Bounty Hunter and the Tea Brewer, the next Avatar book written by me and drawn by Peter Wartman. It’ll be out in August from Dark Horse Comics, and stars Uncle Iroh and June the bounty hunter. 



CBY:  Nice! I'll be sure to keep my kids in the loop around its release. Another recent title of yours brings us here today - I wanted to delve a bit further into Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy. Unlike Avatar, this title is entirely your original work, and serves up a more grounded story, set on Vancouver Island, that I imagine comes from a place of inspiration a lot closer to home. Released this past October, when did you first begin working on the project? 



FEH: I think I first started working seriously on Hockey Girl loves Drama Boy at the beginning of 2021, but I’d had the idea for the book for a few years. I’d drawn a picture of two characters (who would eventually become Ezra and Alix, the stars of the book) and posted it on Facebook, commenting “here’s the main characters from my upcoming romance comic, Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy!” Of course the book didn’t exist at that time, and the title was a bit of a joke, but it stuck around, and here we are, years later. 



CBY: I know it’s a massive undertaking to produce a graphic novel at this length, and you had a few people credited; Calista Brill and Kiara Valdez as editors and Avia Perez as production editor, with cover design work from Kirk Benshoff and interior design work from Sunny Lee. You also mentioned your digital/analogue hybrid method of illustrating in the credits - how did you settle into this mode of putting your pages together, and how does it different from some of your other approaches over the years with the creative support team on Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy?   



FEH: I’ve been making comics using a digital/traditional hybrid method since 2014, so I’m very comfortable with it now. I pencil my comic pages in Clip Studio (I have an older version of the program called Manga Studio), then print the comic pages out to ink traditionally. I like the look of traditional inks and find them easier on my wrist, so I’m not planning on an entirely digital comic drawing method for the moment. My work with the First Second team remains largely the same as when I worked entirely traditionally; I scan my pages in to the computer and fire a digital copy of them at my publisher when I’m done. We’ve been working together for over a decade now, so the process is pretty easy. Other than actually drawing the graphic novel, that is.



CBY: It sounds like you've got a streamlined production process locked down that allows you to focus on what you're producing, at least! So for this graphic novel, you’ve elected to keep things in black & white with blue as the only color accenting the illustrations. Why blue in particular? Also, practically speaking, what did this mean in terms of selectively adding color to the illustration and Pantone printing process compared to a solely black & white printing or CMYK full-color printing?



FEH: The two colour look of HGlovesDB reflects the moodiness of the story told in the comic; it has a lot of emotions! I wouldn’t have minded working with a professional colourist on this book (I don’t have the skills to colour my own work, unfortunately), but because it was meant for a teen audience and teens tend to be a little more easygoing about a book not being in full colour than middle grade readers, I felt the two tone look was appropriate. As for why I chose the blue colour, I felt it reflected the iciness of a hockey rink.  



CBY: An apt choice! I know you mentioned you’re not a hockey player (despite being Canadian), and the need to check in with more experienced skaters around capturing the action properly. I can relate a bit, as I’m the only one of six boys in my household who didn’t play ice hockey. With Avatar and some of your more fantastic depictions of action, do you treat the approach differently knowing you’re more likely to encounter a hockey player with opinions on the way you depicted the game than you are to run into an airbender with similar opinions? What methods do you enjoy utilizing to create more dynamic action on the page?



FEH: I don’t draw the Avatar pages, so when I write in the fight scenes for Peter to draw on our Avatar book, I tend to put them in with general beats (like, this character does this here, this other character does this bending action here, etc), and give him the space to develop the fight scenes in a more specific manner. I know he has someone who helps out with martial arts references, which is why those fight scenes look so awesome. As for hockey, I definitely wanted the game scenes to look authentic, so I just watched a lot of women’s hockey on You Tube. There’s quite a few past Olympic games available to watch, so I did a lot of that before sitting down to draw. Reference is your friend when you are a cartoonist! 



CBY:  The action certainly rings true (and I know I definitely feel more confident in what I'm drawing when I'm working from reference than my own mind's eye). Now, I recently relocated to Melbourne, Australia, and found a copy of Pumpkin Heads at a secondhand shop shortly after learning about our interview opportunity. One of my daughters mentioned having read Friends with Boys when we were back in Fiji, as well. When choosing a project and crafting a story, what do you think helps it resonate around the world? Can you identify any steps along the way in your career that have helped you build a fan base across an international audience?



FEH: To be honest, I haven’t really thought about that very much! I’m very grateful that readers around the world have enjoyed my work, but for me personally I try to write and draw stories that I enjoy as a writer and artist, instead of worrying about pleasing as many readers as possible. As someone from Canada, I enjoy reading stories about people from different countries who might have different perspectives on life, and I’d hope other readers feel the same way. 



CBY:  You are an incredibly prolific comic and graphic novel creator, both as a writer and an artist. Over more than a decade, you’ve chalked up over twenty comic and graphic novel credits, with contributions to various other anthologies. This builds on a legacy of both your newspaper comic strip Jenny’s Brothers before the weekly Superhero Girl, and your earlier webcomic, Demonology 101. Not everyone covers that sort of ground, even with a 25-year career to look back on. Reflecting back on your career trajectory, what has led you towards different outlets for your cartooning, and what do you seek out in projects to keep you excited about whatever the next title happens to be?



FEH: Some of my career experiences have been luck (like being offered a newspaper strip out of the blue in my local Halifax paper) and others have been pure hard work (like drawing an online comic for five years while I went through post-secondary school, whew, that was hard), but mostly I just try to keep working and take opportunities as they come to me. I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve been able to keep consistently working over the past (gulp!) twenty years, and hopefully there’ll be at least another twenty in the future. 



CBY:  I was very impressed by your depiction of Ezra, and his open-minded approach towards fending off being labeled or pigeonholed in his relationships. From what I’ve read of your work, you’ve developed an approach towards deconstructing traditional gender roles that I presume also helps a wide range of readers find characters who they identify with beyond mainstream prescriptive roles. How central do these identity elements become in the development of the characters, the conflict, and the overarching plot structure as you build your stories towards the finished comics that eventuate?



FEH: When I was a kid I definitely didn’t fit into predetermined gender roles, and it was something I chafed at deeply, so it makes sense that bending or breaking those roles would be a consistent theme in my work. I’ve also been fortunate to have many queer friends (and am a bit queer myself ;)) so want to create stories that are inclusive to those people. It’s a tricky thing to give a queer character challenges like dealing with a bully (like Ezra does in the book), but I enjoyed giving him the power and self-assurance to stand up to the person who harasses him, and I also liked giving him a wonderful friend group who supports him. In contrast, Alix is something who might on the surface seem like she has power, being an important part of a winning hockey team, but she’s been stripped of her agency by her team captain’s treatment of her. But through her relationship with Ezra, she is able to gain support and finally stand up for herself. It doesn’t happen in the way that Alix herself thinks it would, but it’s important she walk down that road. 



CBY:  Now, this title came out through First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, which you’ve worked with for various titles over recent years. You’ve also worked with Dark Horse, Square Fish, Marvel, Boom! and other publishers on a range of comics. What goes into matching a project to a publisher (or the inverse), and at what point in the ideation process do you tend to see arrangements formalized? What goes into your process of deciding how and where to find homes for the various comics you develop? 



FEH: At this point, I mostly work with First Second and Dark Horse. I’ve worked with them both for quite a while, and it’s nice to have these kind of solid relationships, considering how unstable the publishing industry is. In the past I’d sometimes get approached by publishers and asked to pitch for their publishing lines, or sometimes the publisher will have a property they think I’d be a good fit for. Right now I’m just focused on Avatar for Dark Horse, and when I have an original graphic novel idea, First Second will always get a first look at that. I haven’t yet had the experience of being in love with a new book idea and having it rejected by First Second, so I’ve been very lucky! 



CBY: It's encouraging to hear, as a creator, you've found a reliable publisher with consistent support of seeing your ideas brought to fruition through their print line. Given your creative output and the fact that Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy has been out six months now, can you share a bit of insight into what readers can expect from you next? What does the comic-reading community have to look forward to from you in the new future?



FEH: My next book is more realistic fiction; as I mentioned, it’s inspired by my experiences at animation college. I did an intensive three-year classical animation program many years ago, and was very determined to break into the animation industry. I worked for various studios for a few years after graduation, but eventually moved into comics. It’s where my heart is. :) Anyway! My next book is about two sisters who take an intensive summer animation course, and it’s inspired by my art school experiences … and art school trauma! Animation school is tough! Hopefully these characters get out alive. 



CBY:  I look forward to seeing it come together! So to close, stepping aside from the influences on Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy, what other comics, films, music, art, literature, and other work has been catching your attention lately? What should our readers make sure they don’t miss out on from amidst the creations out there you’ve most enjoyed recently?


FEH: Right now everything is books and video games for me. I’m currently reading The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty, a banger of a fantasy novel about a lady pirate going on one last voyage. My current game obsession is Baldur’s Gate 3, where I’ve fallen in love with a giant fiery lady named Karlach. 



CBY: Faith, thank you for the recommendations and for stopping by to talk about your work. I look forward to seeing what you bring to the world next. If you have any other portfolio, publication, and social media links you’d like our readers to check out, please let us know below!



FEH: For sure! Find me online at www.faitherinhicks.com and I’m on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok as @faitherinhicks



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