‘Superhero Girl’: Faith Erin Hicks harnesses the power of the Web

April 10, 2013 | 11:18 a.m.
Comic artist and writer Faith Erin Hicks. (Joe Alcorn)

Comic artist and writer Faith Erin Hicks. (Joe Alcorn)

Dark Horse’s “The Adventures of Superhero Girl” — available now — collects a comic strip that Faith Erin Hicks wrote and drew for the Halifax alt-weekly The Coast for several years beginning in the late ’00s, about a well-meaning, super-powered Canadian gal who doesn’t get enough attention for all the good work she does.

The same could’ve been said about Hicks a few years ago, though not so much anymore.

One of the most in-demand cartoonists in the business, Hicks has three other books coming out this year besides “Superhero Girl,” and says that she’s in a place in her career right now where she’s turning down illustration assignments. That’s a long way from where Hicks was when she began “Superhero Girl,” at a time when she says she was “poor and desperate enough to spend an entire day working on a comic for $45.”

“The Adventures of Superhero Girl,” $16.99: Cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks’ webcomic has drawn a devoted following, perhaps because of the heroine’s ability to defeat monsters and evil ninjas with her bare hands. Or maybe it’s because she frequently forgets to take off her mask when she’s not fighting crime. Or perhaps it’s because of her problems with money and boys, or her weakness for kittens. Whatever the reason, the relatable stories and eye-candy artwork are sure to charm. The 112-page hardcover is out Feb. 26, but available for preorder now. (Dark Horse)

“The Adventures of Superhero Girl” (Dark Horse)

Then again, it was Hicks’ experience of being a poor art-school grad that helped make “Superhero Girl” as funny and knowing as it is, with Hicks’ heroine trying to fit saving the world in between trips to the laundromat, shopping in thrift stores and hustling to job interviews. Some of Hicks’ “Superhero Girl” strips are one-off gags, while others are part of longer arcs with actual costumed villains and space aliens; but all are lighthearted and wise about how it feels to be young, gifted and scatterbrained.

At the same time that Hicks was doing “Superhero Girl” for The Coast, she was posting the strips online, which she did in part because, as she admits now, The Coast was “not really the right environment for a goofy superhero comic.” She believes she had more readers online than in the paper, and that putting it online also allowed her to develop longer plotlines.

“When the archive is right there,” she explained, “the reader can just click on the previous comic if they’re not sure about where they are in the story.”

Faith Erin Hicks amassed a devoted following online for her comic "The Adventures of Superhero Girl." (Faith Erin Hicks)

Faith Erin Hicks amassed a devoted following online for her comic “The Adventures of Superhero Girl.” (Faith Erin Hicks)

Hicks believes strongly in the power of the Internet to help cartoonists build an audience and hone their work.

“My first five years of doing comics, when I was in college, I just did comics for fun, and did a Web comic called ‘Demonology 101,’ ” she said. “I was writing and drawing it while I was posting the pages, and then people would respond to that, sometimes differently than I had expected. A character would become popular with the readers, and that would sometimes affect future installments. I think that’s what’s really interesting about Web comics, how they can be shaped by reader interaction.”

The cover for "Friends With Boys" by Faith Erin Hicks. (First Second Books)

The cover for “Friends With Boys” by Faith Erin Hicks. (First Second Books)

In fact, she’s so insistent on this model that she’s persuaded another of her American publishers, First Second, to let her post her graphic novels “Friends With Boys” and “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” online in serialized installments before the books were published.

“They’re the rare publisher that’s not scared of the Internet,” Hicks said of First Second. “I find that putting my books online allows to me reach a wider readership than just releasing it into the wild, into bookstores. It allows people to become familiar with it, and then hopefully if they like what they read, they’ll actually purchase the book.”

Like “Friends With Boys,” which First Second published last year, “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” is a high school story with geeky elements. While “Friends With Boys” is about a teenage girl trying to understand the teenage caste system while being haunted by a ghost, “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” is about a robot-obsessed nerd who feuds with his best friend, a basketball star.

“Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” — out in May — was written by Prudence Shen, but shares Hicks’ sensibility, since it’s about well-meaning misfits who get in over their heads.

The cover for "Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong" by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks. (First Second Books)

The cover for “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks. (First Second Books)

“I like it best when I can have a little bit of input on the story, since my background is as a writer and artist,” Hicks said. “I really like it when I’m engaged with the person who’s writing the script, and we can work to each other’s strengths.”

Hicks started out in animation, because she thought that would be the best way to “get paid to draw.”

“I never thought that comics would be my job,” she said. “I thought that animation would be my job, and that comics would be something I did as a hobby.”

But like other animators-turned-cartoonists (such as Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, Guy Delisle, Jim Woodring, Mark Kalesniko and Jeff Smith), Hicks has found that the skills required in both fields are similar.

“You learn how to draw backgrounds, you learn how to draw people,” Hicks said.” You learn film, basically. You learn how to make a good movie.”

And though Hicks’ work to date has been largely in the mold of YA literature, she says that there’s been nothing conscious about that.

“Honestly, I make comics that I want to read,” she said. “I think sometimes I do aim for a younger audience, maybe because that’s the kind of comic I enjoy reading. But I do like adult comics. Something like ‘B.P.R.D.,’ published by Dark Horse as well, is very dark, but also rich. I’m doing a post-apocalyptic comic now, ‘The Last Of Us,’ but I don’t think I’d want to do it long-term, just because it’s so challenging and so dark. I kind of like doing comics that are fun. I didn’t specifically set out to, say, write comics for girls. I think sometimes that’s what people assume, but I think maybe they assume that because I am a girl, and write comics where girls are main characters. But I hope that everyone is my audience.”

— Noel Murray

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