The story, like all good ones, is set in a boarding school. It focuses on Jun, a poor girl who is admitted to the posh school on a full scholarship due to her genius IQ. Jun immediately feels out-of-place, but is determined to not let it bother her. While there she manages to make one good friend, and one mortal enemy.
Where Zombies Calling, Hicks' debut, was a zany romp with zombies and social commentary on student loans, Ellsmere is a little darker and far more subdued. The ink-heavy art and the gothic setting give the story a very dreamy feel, which is enhanced by the magic realism Hicks' incorporates into the book to keep readers on their toes. The book also has lots of humour and witty dialogue. I am a huge fan of Hicks' facial expressions.
After the disappointing cancellation of the Minx line of books for teen girls, it's exciting to see SLG publishing such a excellent book for the same audience. In fact, this is one of the best books I've seen for teen girls in awhile, at least as good as Hope Larson's Chiggers, or Mike Carey's Re-Gifters. If all is right in the world, then this book should secure Hicks' spot among the top indie comic creators.
I did a Q&A with the Halifax-based, football-loving, ultra-talented and all around super nice Faith Erin Hicks. If you want to meet her (and you DO), then stop by Strange Adventures comic shop in Halifax this Saturday, Dec 6 from 6pm-8pm for her book launch. Last time she did one at the shop there was a line-up out the door!
Alright, here's the Q&A. I'm in purple, in case you can't follow.
Boarding schools are totally awesome places for stories to be set. What is it about them that makes them so awesome?
The greatest thing about setting a story in a boarding school is that there are no parents. The teachers are there and provide some kind of authority figure, but boarding school is a great way to set up a story where children are pretty much on their own, but not in a dangerous way. They're still properly fed and not harassed by terrifying island monsters like in Lord of the Flies. Plus I'm a bit of a sucker for rich, old, Victorian meets Fairytale architecture, which you just have to have in a boarding school story.
What was your school experience like growing up? Is there any of yourself in Jun?
I was homeschooled growing up (until high school), so that's probably why the idea of boarding school is so exotic to me: the idea of being in an environment that excludes parents and where you're surrounded by children your own age. I think I was more like Cassie than Jun when I was a kid. I was pretty shy and mousey, and very dreamy. I liked talking to trees and had this idea that everything magical I'd read in stories was the absolute truth. I never had cool come-backs to the mean kids like Jun has.
I did go to a hyper-competitive animation college, though, which is where the sabotage-heavy environment at Ellsmere comes from.
Something that I thought was really interesting about this book is that there are virtually no male characters at all. I don't really have a question here, but maybe you want to comment on that.
In a much earlier draft of the story, there was a male character, a standard tweeny love interest which I included because I really thought I couldn't do a story without a male character. I've always had male characters in my comics; I like writing them, and I felt like I would be excluding people if I wrote a story without a male character. However, as Ellsmere progressed, I realized that the male character I'd created didn't fit with the story at all, and for the sake of the story, I should just toss him and hope that my readers wouldn't have a huge problem with it.
There's another element there in that I wanted to do a story about two girls fighting, and have the fight not be over a boy. Those kind of stories always leave me cold, and I can't remember reading many where you have women doing battle with each other over things other than men. And I'm a little tired of that stereotype. I want something different! This probably sounds completely pretentious, but I wanted to do something almost ... I don't know, Shakespearean. I wanted to have this Good Verses Evil fight, the kind of battle you see in plays like MacBeth or movies like Star Wars, but have the battle be between two young girls. But, of course, still have that battle be appropriate for younger readers. No hands getting chopped off by lightsabers here, kids.
This is your second published graphic novel. Do you feel like a comic book star yet? Have you had some exciting fame moments?
Oh, lord no. I'm always terrified someone's going to leap out of a bush and yell that I'm a complete fake and can't draw worth beans, and take away all my comic projects. I'm completely blown away that I've found anyone willing to publish me, let alone done as well as I have. Honestly, working in comics, I feel more like a fan than a professional. I'm always so excited to meet people who do comics for a living, and so thrilled when they actually take the time to talk to me.
I'm trying to tone it down, really. It's not the most professional thing to start squealing and giggling every time you meet a fellow cartoonist. But comics are just so exciting!
Your art is beautiful and it reminds me a bit of Paul Pope or Ryan Kelly. Who are your favourite artists or influences?
Paul Pope is a huge influence. I love his work. It's completely unlike anything I've ever seen, and he seems able to take cliches and overcome them through sheer drawing power. He's incredible. Ryan Kelly I like as well, although I've only recently been picking up his work. My number one art god is Jeff Smith, although nobody's ever told me my art looks like his ... Jim Rugg and Ted Naifeh are also worthy of worship. I like any artist who inks like nobody's business. I love ink.
So what's next for you? Are you going to return to your webcomic, Ice? Or are you going to swim in your piles of book money?
Hah, yes, I go diving in my giant pile of comic book money every morning, just like Scrooge McDuck! I would very much like to finish Ice, as it's close to completion, but I'm currently neck deep in my next project, drawing a graphic novel for First Second Books. I'm going to try and work on Ice soon, though. I don't like that it's unfinished, and I think it's a good story. I'd like to see it through.