Cartoonist writes young adult novel, discusses work

23 April 2019

Suzanne Seyfi

[email protected]

    Faith Erin Hicks writes and draws comics for a living, but her latest offering, “Comics Will Break Your Heart,” is a young adult prose novel. It stars two teenagers on the cusp of making life-changing decisions about their futures who find themselves inexorably attracted to one another. The conflict is in the generations-long feud between their families over comics licensing.

    The novel is gorgeously written, which may come as a surprise since it was penned by a cartoonist. But Hicks’ long history of well-crafted stories says otherwise. She is the current writer for the graphic novel series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” another testament to her writing skills.

    “Comics Will Break Your Heart” is a slow-burning romance between Mir, whose comic-artist grandfather was robbed of his work and his due, and Weldon, whose family is now legendary for that same comic creation.

    The novel also includes a lot of love and wry affection for small towns and the comics industry. It is immediately apparent that Hicks is familiar with both from the way community grapevines run rampant to details about comic-script formatting. This again should not come as a surprise, considering Hicks’ Canadian small-town origins and long years spent working on comics.

    The characters are lovingly written too. The rift between two families over comic legal rights is given different viewpoints not only from members of each family, but also nosy parkers and well-meaning friends. Each individual perspective colors the dispute differently, which is impressive. 

    The only drawback to the story is Mir’s best friend Raleigh, who does not get quite enough pages to seem fleshed out. She instead feels more symbolic of the small-town mindset: she loves her home and has no wish to leave. Raleigh represents another conflict for Mir, to stay home or go to college, more than she shows up as a friend.

    Hicks graciously allowed an interview about her work habits. “Writing a prose book is certainly different than doing comics,” she said.

    “Drawing a graphic novel, that’s like running a marathon, so it’s a lot of hours, a lot of sitting in a chair. It’s also just plugging away and moving at a steady pace. Whereas writing a novel, I found it was more like sprinting. I couldn’t do it for long periods of time. I had to just dive in, quickly write, try my best to not exhaust my brain, and then I had to leave it and I had to walk away.”

    Hicks spoke frankly about overtaxing herself. “I’m trying to pace myself a little bit more, because it’s hard. I’ve been working really, really intensely. I took my first vacation in ten years last year.”

    She is taking steps to slow down her workaholism. “I am dealing with burnout a lot, and I feel like just allowing myself to rest, for possibly a year.” Hicks intends to focus on smaller projects for 2019, like writing “Avatar,” rather than writing and illustrating another full-length graphic novel. “I feel like that’s right for me.”

    She also spoke about her bouts with Imposter Syndrome. “Do I feel like I will continue to come up with ideas that are good, that are sellable? No.”

    “There is definitely this feeling within the creative arts that you’re as only good as your last book,” she said. “You need to be continuously producing new art. And that can be really, really hard. So that’s the kind of thing I struggle with.”

    However, Hicks did not hesitate to point out her gratitude for her journey thus far. “I do feel like I have a career. I have relationships with publishers. I have a backlist. So I do feel like comics is my career, and in that way I’m very lucky and in that way I don’t doubt myself.”