Comics in conversation

I've attended a lot of author events that have been billed as the author appearing "in conversation with" an interviewer. But those events are never actually conversations; they're just interviews. I've never actually attended an event that felt like a real conversation until last night, when Seattle author G. Willow Wilson shared the stage with Vancouver cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks at Elliott Bay Book Company. Hicks was in town to celebrate the debut of the second book in the Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart (read my review of the two books here,) but she and Wilson didn't restrain their conversation to the newest book. Instead, they ranged to every topic within reach.

Things were most fun when the authors dug deep into the craft of comics. Wilson opened by asking if writing the "Empire Strikes Back" part of a trilogy was a chore, since the middle book by definition contains no authoritative beginning or end. Hicks replied that writing The Stone Heart was "actually more fun." She wrote the script for The Stone Heart in just eleven days, while the third book in the trilogy, by comparison, took two months to write.

From there, their focus wandered to all aspects of the comic industry. Wilson lamented the fact that artists on monthly books often "get injured." Modern comics require such a high level of craft from its artists — fine detail, compelling figure work, clever page design — that most artists fall prey to "carpal tunnel, back issues, and spinal injuries." Hicks agreed, saying that while she mostly draws book-length comics, the one time she worked on a monthly limited series, "it was only four months and I nearly died."

The two honestly and openly discussed multiculturalism in comics. Hicks pointed out that in The Stone Heart, she made every effort to draw a multicultural, diverse city, but she said that colorist Jordie Bellaire was an "unsung hero" in creating the texture of the city in the book. A good colorist can reveal the diversity of your cast, Hicks said, in a way that no artist can convey in black and white. Wilson talked about the challenges of resolving conflicts in Ms. Marvel: "because it has a Muslim protagonist, I didn't really want her hitting people too often," or else the character would become a representative of the racist western "violent Muslim" stereotype.

Hicks and Wilson asked each other questions on subjects ranging from what it's like to meet your cartooning idols to why Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is the perfect crush for a 13 year-old girl who's "terrified of men." They gushed over each others' work as fans and recommended comics for each other to read.

Hicks talked a little bit about an upcoming project: her very first prose young adult novel, which will be published in February of 2018. Ironically, her first non-comics work is still "all about comics," Hicks laughed. It's about the grandchildren of two sparring golden age comics creators. The teens fall in love, and their relationship exhumes several generations' worth of bitterness. Wilson asked Hicks for the title of the book. Hicks laughed.

"It's called Comics Will Break Your Heart," she said.

"Truer words have never been spoken," Wilson replied.