Books·Magic 8 Q&A

How Faith Erin Hicks broke free from her jealousy

The author of The Stone Heart answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Faith Erin Hicks is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel The Stone Heart. (Nathan Boone)

The Stone Heart is the second instalment of The Nameless City, cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks' graphic novel trilogy. Inspired by 13th century China during the Yuan dynasty, the series focuses on the unusual friendship between an orphan girl named Rat and a soldier-in-training named Kaidu, who live in a city without a name. 

Below, Faith Erin Hicks answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Karyn Freedman asks, "Is it important for you that your characters adopt a moral viewpoint that you endorse?"

Sometimes. I think when I'm making comics for younger readers, I want to emphasize certain ideas that are important to me, like the ability to be kind to another or be open to other people's perspectives. If I'm making comics for myself, or not really thinking about an audience when I'm drawing, I think my characters tend to be a little more on the morally ambiguous side, maybe because I'm acting out the jerkier side of my personality. ;)

2. Michael DeForge asks, "How often do you feel jealousy towards other writers? Do you feel guilty about it?"

I used to feel jealousy when I was younger and really struggling in my career, but for the most part, I think I've been able to move past that. Occasionally I'll feel badly, because my work doesn't sell at bestseller level and I still worry about my future in comics and whether or not it is sustainable. So sometimes that can manifest in a moment of jealousy towards a creator who has much better sales. I always feel guilty over these moments of weakness. During these moments I try to remind myself of my good fortune and hard work and that these bestselling authors have their own struggles that I can't see, and that usually takes care of things. Until my next moment of weakness!

3. Kate Pullinger asks, "How many books have you written that feature yourself as a thinly disguised character?"

I'd say three of my 12 published graphic novels have characters that are pretty similar to me. One is pretty obvious, since the book is based on my teen years, but I'll let readers take a guess as to the other two.

4. Eden Robinson asks, "What is your first childhood memory?"

Riding a pony in a dusty ring at a stable in Vancouver. I liked that first experience so much that I decided to devote my entire childhood to horses and riding.

5. Colleen Murphy asks, "What is the book you read that changed your life, and why?"

Probably Bone by Jeff Smith, although I didn't read that comic until I was in my early 20s. I'd spent a lot of my childhood reading comics (mostly newspaper comics and imported French comics like Tintin and Asterix), but I struggled a lot as a young adult trying to find appealing comics to read. I really wanted to read narrative comics (rather than comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes) and I wanted them to have female characters that felt like they were written for me as a reader. Bone was the first comic I read as an adult that seemed made for me. It had beautiful artwork, a compelling story and female characters that I loved. Bone changed my perception of comics and what comics could be.

6. Louise Penny asks, "What do you know now that you wish you'd know when writing your first book?"

This is in relation to art, not writing, but I wish I'd known that better art doesn't equal more detail. Earlier in my career I didn't understand that it's actually important to have white space on a comic page, to allow a reader's eye to "rest" while reading the images in a comic. So my early artwork was very cluttered, as I tried to fill the panels with detail and thus make the art "better." I'm better at composing a page now and better at balancing complicated artwork with more simple drawings, so the reader doesn't get overwhelmed by details.

7. Jo Walton asks, "What's the most unusual thing you've ever made work in your writing?"

This isn't actually that unusual in comics, but it is unusual for me because I don't normally make comics like this, but I did a collection of gag comic strips about superheroes called The Adventures of Superhero Girl, which was eventually collected and published by Dark Horse Comics. I'm not the type of writer who's naturally drawn to the gag comic format (I find it really stressful to be funny!), so doing a joke-based comic was a real challenge. Plus, the comic is about both superhero nonsense and early-20s, post-university anxiety, so that was a weird combination. And kids really like that book, too! It remains one of my more puzzling achievements.

8. Taras Grescoe asks, "What's the biggest lie you've ever told (in life, or writing, or both)?"

This isn't a lie that I've spoken, but some people have told me they perceive that I'm a confident artist. I'm not sure where they get the idea! I really struggle with drawing and I think I'm pretty open about my difficulties with it. And yet, I often have younger artists approaching me and asking how they can get my self-confidence. It's very kind of them to think that about me, but I have no idea! I'd like to know how to be confident in my work as well.


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