Faith Erin Hicks is one of the most in-demand writer/artists in graphic novels, built on the success of her Avatar: The Last Airbender comics and numerous creator-owned comics. With such a successful (and prolific) career, it's easy to forget her humble beginnings in the late '90s webcomics scene.
Hicks' next graphic novel Run On is inspired by her own childhood as a self-professed 'horse girl,' but she was also a comics girl - Tintin to be exact.
As part of Newsarama's spotlight interview series 'The secret origin of...', we spoke with Faith Erin Hicks to learn about her early days as as a comics creator and a comics fan, and how that interest blossomed and was forged into a career in the comic book industry.
Newsarama: Faith, what was the spark that made you interested in the comic book medium as a fan?
Faith Erin Hicks: I honestly don't know! I remember always being very drawn to comics, that there was something about the visual element of the medium that really attracted me, but I'm not sure if there was ever a particular single spark. Like many Canadian children, I loved reading comics like Tintin and Asterix when I was little.
Nrama: Do you remember the first comic book you read?
Hicks: It was probably a Tintin comic, or maybe a bible comic I had as a kid. I'm pretty knowledgeable about bible history, mostly because I read that bible comic until it fell apart.
Nrama: How did you know you wanted to work in comics?
Hicks: I started drawing webcomics back in the dark ages of the internet, 1999. It was very much a hobby back then, I never considered it something I could build into a career. But doing those early first webcomics was how I fell in love with making comics, so I consider them the start of my career.
Nrama: That webcomic was Demonology. What was the webcomic landscape like back then?
Hicks: It was much smaller, kinda miniscule, actually. Monetizing your webcomic or making a living from it was not really a thing, and (based on my memory) I feel like most of the people doing comics were people like me: kids in school. I also got the impression that doing webcomics was considered strictly for amateurs: if you were a professional cartoonist, why weren't you getting published by a 'real' publisher, that kind of thing.
Nrama: How do you feel like the webcomic landscape has changed?
Hicks: It's so different now! Now cartoonists literally have webcomic empires, with readerships that are beyond my wildest imagination. It's really exciting, I'm glad people have figured out a way to make it work and make a decent living from webcomics.
Nrama: And how do you feel like your art style has changed over the years?
Hicks: I don't know that my style has necessarily changed, but my fundamental art skills have grown considerably. Looking back at old artwork it still looks like I drew it, but now I actually have skills in anatomy and perspective, so my drawings look a million times better. Or, at least I hope they do.
Nrama: You've also done plenty of graphic novels. What do you enjoy about this format compared to single issues or even webcomics?
Hicks: I'm definitely a graphic novel person. I like reading them, I like making them. I like the satisfaction of a complete story.
Drawing them is hard; drawing a graphic novel is like running a marathon, just trudging away, putting one foot in front of the other, churning out page after page until the thing is done. It can be very grueling. But it's how I like to work. I like being able to see the whole book in front of me, and edit it into the best form it can be.
Nrama: Is the creative process different working in webcomics compared to graphic novels?
Hicks: I haven't made a regular webcomic in over a decade, but when I made webcomics, I worked from a loose storyline and wrote the script as I drew the pages. It was very haphazard and made for story conflicts down the road.
When I draw a graphic novel, the script and story are nailed down before I start drawing the pages, so I have a very clear idea of where everything is going to go. I think it makes for a much more cohesive final product.
If I ever went back to webcomics, I'd definitely nail down my script ahead of time.
Nrama: You've also worked on the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What do you enjoy about work for hire projects like this?
Hicks: Playing in someone else's sandbox, using characters and jumping off from stories someone else has created can be a lot of fun. The hard work (creating the world, the characters, the antagonists and main conflicts) has been done, and I get to dive in and do what I want (within reason). I don't have a ton of original ideas, so in order to keep creating on a regular basis, I like to do licensed work.
Nrama: What made you want to work on Avatar: The Last Airbender in particular?
Hicks: Because it's my favorite animated show of all time! C'mon, it's amazing, who wouldn't want to work on it? ;)
Nrama: I know they're all your babies, but do you have a favorite story you've worked on?
Most of Hicks' comics are available digitally, as she originally debuted in comics. Check out the best digital comics readers for Android and iOS devices.