Books·How I Wrote It

Faith Erin Hicks on comic industry woes and off the cuff writing

The illustrator's debut YA novel, Comics Will Break Your Heart, is about the grandchildren of comic book rivals in a small Canadian town.
Comics Will Break Your Heart is a YA novel by Faith Erin Hicks. (Nathan Boone, Raincoast Books)

Faith Erin Hicks is an Eisner Award-winning comics creator known for books like The Adventures of Superhero Girl and the Nameless City fantasy series. Her latest, Comics Will Break Your Heartis her first YA novel and follows a young girl named Miriam from small-town Nova Scotia.

Miriam's late grandfather was the co-creator of a popular superhero comic book called Tomorrowmen, but was cut out from the business after selling his copyright for a small sum. When the cute heir to the Tomorrowmen fortune arrives in town, Miriam wonders how she can balance old family resentments with her burgeoning crush.

In her own words, Hicks describes what it was like to write Comics Will Break Your Heart.

Writing from the heart

"At the time I was developing the story, Disney was in the process of going to court with Jack Kirby's legal heirs. Kirby is the co-creator of many of the characters that populate the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He did not retain ownership of the characters that he created when he wrote and drew comics for Marvel throughout the latter half of 20th century. As someone who is a comic creator, that was very difficult to read about. I wanted to see this man's legacy and his heirs fairly compensated for all of his creative work.

"Also, there was a period — and it's still ongoing — where many older comic book creators had fallen on hard times. There were many articles popping up about, for instance, a creator who made comics in the 1970s and was battling cancer and needed help paying his medical bills. There's a foundation called the Hero Initiative that has been set up specifically to help older comic book creators who maybe did a lot of freelance work or a lot of licensed comics decades ago and did not retain the copyright to their creations. As someone who is a creator and a cartoonist, these things were suddenly on my radar. The book was a way to get those feelings down on paper."

Off the cuff

"Honestly, I didn't even know it would get published. I had this story that I wanted to get off my chest and was writing it in my spare time. When you're working on a novel, of course you hope that someday it will be published and that it will find an audience. But while I was working on it, I didn't know. I didn't do any outlining. I didn't really plan ahead. I was just writing, chapter by chapter. It was fun to see things reveal themselves to me. It was so different from writing a comic because with comics I'm very regimented. Before I start rolling, I do an outline and then I do a thumbnail draft of the entire graphic novel and then I write a script and then I get feedback from my editor and only then do I sit down and start pencilling. The reason that I do that is because it's very hard to edit a graphic novel after it's been drawn. Whereas with a novel, it's quite easy to edit because you're just deleting and typing words. It was enjoyable to work off the cuff and explore the story and see where it led."

Surprising similarities

"The main character's name is Miriam and she lives with her parents who are quirky. I gave the novel to my mom to read at Christmas and recently I talked to her on the phone and she's like, 'Your dad is in that book. This is your dad!' I was like, 'Oh no, you're right!' I did not do that deliberately at all. This character is constantly making these terrible jokes and, at one point, Miriam says that her mom married her dad because he's funny and he constantly has to keep on being funny because otherwise she's going to leave him for a funnier man."

Novels vs. comics

"I can't write for a long period. If I'm drawing a graphic novel, I sit at my desk from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. and then I'll take a break for supper and be back at it from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. With writing, I just found that I couldn't work on it for more than a couple hours a day.

"Coming up with ideas is hard for me. That's the stressful part of the process that freaks me out. I'll go for walks and go to the gym and try to just knock these ideas out of my head. Once the ideas come, I'll sit at my desk and bang away on my laptop and all of the sudden there's a book there."

Faith Erin Hicks's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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