*The War at Ellsmere — Recommended

I didn’t read Faith Erin Hicks’ first graphic novel, Zombies Calling, because, you know, I hate zombies. But I enjoyed this new book so much I need to rethink that.

Juniper is a scholarship student joining Ellsmere Academy, a private girls’ school she’s attending for its excellent academic record. Being away from her home and family is a challenge for her, but her most immediate battle is with Emily, queen bee.

Jun didn’t expect to make friends, which is good, since her refusal to kowtow and take up her designated position as needy poor girl puts her on the outs. She even accidentally insults her gentle roommate Cassie on the first day. Cassie, unfortunately, is used to it, being low girl in the ranks until now.

The War at Ellsmere cover
The War at Ellsmere
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It’s an involving picture of how some situations seem inevitable in their development. Jun expects trouble, so she puts up a tough shield that aggravates her new classmates. The mean girls take the bait, and Jun rubs their faces in it, giving back more than she got, because she couldn’t resist the opening. Jun’s not perfect, but she’s also not deserving of how the grudge war escalates. (You can see preview pages of that first meeting at the publisher’s website.)

Messing with a smart girl is a bad idea, on both sides, and some of their rivalry is pure academic jealousy. Both are used to being top of their class, and obviously, that can’t still be true for both of them. Emily’s concerned about Jun giving the other girls “ideas” about changing around the established hierarchy, the one that benefits her. Plus, Emily is incredibly skilled at finding just the right location to drive her emotional knives. Some of the tactics are shocking for teens to contemplate, let alone execute.

Hicks’ blocky, big-headed art reminds me of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim; this book would be a good choice for a fan of that series looking for something to read next. The style foregrounds the characters’ emotions, making their expressions central. I particularly liked the scene where Cassie is shown a different way and realizes that Jun and she might really be true friends. Cassie frowns off into the distance in a silent panel during their conversation, coming back with “I just noticed… I think Emily’s kind of evil.”

Hicks also fleshes out her settings and environments. The school has a solid presence that supports the class warfare element subtly, with the pressure of centuries of existence surrounding the young women. The emotional core of the story, Jun and Cassie’s growing friendship and the way it reveals Cassie’s hidden depths, drew me in as it developed. I particularly admired the way Hicks made Juniper well-rounded. I was rooting for her, of course, as the underdog, but she’s not perfect. She’s got her pride and her own weaknesses. (There’s also an argument to be made that the book is really Cassie’s story, not Jun’s.)

There is a fantasy element that appears near the end that I found completely unnecessary. Until then, it was a plausible story of teen girls growing up and learning which goals are acceptable and achievable. I wish Hicks had had enough confidence in her storytelling to leave out the mystical fix. (Yes, it was foreshadowed earlier on, but the historical tale could as easily just have been more atmosphere for the ancient school.) But even with that, I hope that there’s a sequel. I don’t want this to be the only time I see these characters.

At her livejournal, Hicks shares her comic bio. See more of her work at her website. There was a school memories contest; the winners received an original sketch or a signed copy of the book.

If you’d like to read other girls-in-private-school comics, try The Dreaming or Kat & Mouse. (A complimentary preview copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

18 Responses to “*The War at Ellsmere — Recommended”

  1. Books and Interviews LinkBlogging » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Erin Hicks is interviewed about her graphic novel out today, The War at Ellsmere. She talks about how her educational experience influenced her choice of a boarding school setting, […]

  2. Chris Arrant Says:

    I agree. I’ve interviewed Hicks several times for PWCW and Newsarama. I’m interested to see what she does next.

  3. Reading Over Shoulders Says:

    […]  War at Ellsmere is getting a lot of buzz, some of it from Comics Worth Reading. […]

  4. Zombies Calling » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] enjoyed Faith Erin Hicks’ The War at Ellsmere so much that I wanted to read her previous book. I hadn’t checked it out when it was released […]

  5. Faith Erin Hicks Does Superheroes » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] made me laugh: Faith Erin Hicks tries her hand at a superhero comic. As expected, it’s good! […]

  6. Jinjinhana Says:

    This comic was so amazing! I picked it up on a whim at the library. I absolutely loved Jun because she was so real and brave and I loved Cassie because she was AWESOME! This was a lovely comic and I would recommend it to anyone. My favorite part was when Jun punched that jerk Emily.

  7. Faith Erin Hicks Announces Friends With Boys, Her Next Graphic Novel » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Erin Hicks, author of The War at Ellsmere and Zombies Calling, has announced via blog post that her next graphic novel will be Friends With […]

  8. Brain Camp » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] set among smart kids, and I very much enjoy the work of artist Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling, The War at Ellsmere). The second, at least, was not disappointing. Brain CampBuy this […]

  9. January 2011 Previews: Indie Month, DC and IDW Recommendations, and Snark » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] The War at Ellsmere (Amaze Ink/SLG Publishing) […]

  10. Coming of Age With First Second: Anya’s Ghost, Level Up, and Zita the Spacegirl » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] art style will feel familiar to fans of Faith Erin Hicks or Bryan Lee O’Malley — it’s got the same round eyes and deceptively simple […]

  11. Just the Usual Superpowers: A Superhero Girl Collection » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] breaking one of my rules here, because I am a total Faith Erin Hicks fangirl. I love her work. She even got me to like a zombie comic. So even though this collection of her webcomic The […]

  12. Faith Erin Hicks Launches Friends With Boys Online » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] been anticipating the next graphic novel from Faith Erin Hicks (The War at Ellsmere, Superhero Girl) since she announced Friends With Boys two years ago. Now, I can start reading it! […]

  13. Listen at Home With Octopus Pie » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] enjoy Meredith Gran’s art style, with the big circle eyes reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks or Bryan Lee O’Malley, but I wasn’t previously able to get into her webcomic Octopus […]

  14. *Friends With Boys — Recommended » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] importance of finding pop culture role models you can love is pretty good, too. Previously, some (including me) compared her work to that of Bryan Lee O’Malley due to some superficial similarities (blocky […]

  15. Superhero Girl Goes to Dark Horse » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] tells with them. See Friends With Boys for the latest example, although I’m also very fond of The War at Ellsmere. Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks […]

  16. Good Comics Out April 3 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] I’m also curious about The Last of Us: American Dreams #1. I don’t know anything about the video game (nor do I care to), but it’s by Faith Erin Hicks, and it’s about a girl fighting back at boarding school, the kind of topic she’s handled well in the past. […]

  17. *Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong — Recommended » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] an excellent job with these kinds of stories. I love reading her young people (in such books as The War at Ellsmere and Friends With Boys), but then again, I’d read any work she does regardless of the age of […]

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    […] Erin Hicks, The War at Ellsmere, whose every book I have loved, and whom I finally met in […]




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