Faith Erin Hicks’ New Book May Seem Familiar — An Interview

The War at Ellsmere cover

It’s been a great pleasure for me to follow the work and career of Faith Erin Hicks. I love her style, and she’s done some terrific reads over the years — The Nameless City trilogy, Friends With Boys, The Adventures of Superhero Girl, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. I’m eagerly anticipating her upcoming Pumpkinheads, written by Rainbow Rowell, coming this fall.

After that, there’s another “new” book — but long-time fans will recognize it. First Second will release One Year at Ellsmere in 2020. It’s a color version of an early work by Hicks, The War at Ellsmere, which came out over a decade ago and is out of print. Hicks is reinking the book, and it’s been fun to see her comparisons.

Ellsmere page re-inked

Hicks was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the process.

What drove the decision to republish? Sounds like a chance to reach a wider audience, now that you’re much better known, without taking the time to make a whole new work.

Yeah, that was basically it. Ellsmere was originally published by SLG, a publisher I was very fond of for many years, although they seem to have fallen on hard times now. SLG mainly distributed their books to the direct market, which really didn’t have much interest in a graphic novel aimed primarily at ten-year-old girls. (I literally wrote and drew Ellsmere for my ten-year-old self.)

I remember Ellsmere got on the YALSA long list, so a bunch of libraries bought it for their collections. And by “a bunch” I think it sold 500 copies, which was thrilling to me at the time. That was probably where most of the sales for that book came from.

But now the graphic novel market is very different, young readers of all genders are hungry for comics, and libraries are hugely supportive of them. It’s a chance for this book to actually find its audience, now that it’s so much easier for kids to access graphic novels. And it doesn’t hurt that I have so many more readers now! I’m excited for those who enjoyed The Nameless City or Friends with Boys to check out One Year at Ellsmere.

Why the decision to redraw? And how do you “draw the line” (forgive the pun) in what to redo and what not without remaking the entire book?

Well, like pretty much every artist, I hate my old work. Ellsmere especially was drawn during a rocky period in my art development. I was really trying hard to force myself to draw in a cartoony style and didn’t have the technical ability to make that style work. I like the story and characters in Ellsmere, but looking at the artwork gives me hives.

Re-inking it has been incredibly satisfying. I get to take the skills I have now and “correct” my old artwork, make it beautiful and new. I’ve been trying to be strict with myself when I edit the pages, so I don’t spend a year on this book.

My process is that I’m scanning the old Ellsmere pages into my computer, editing them in Photoshop, then printing out the artwork and re-inking it. I’m not allowing myself to redraw panels or mess with their composition (other than perhaps flipping a panel so that the storytelling flow reads better), I’m mostly redrawing faces and character anatomy. And I’ve been impressed by what 2008 Faith could do; the panel compositions are quite nice, and I haven’t found the need to mess with them.

I think I’ve always had good storytelling chops, I just struggled a lot with the technical aspect of drawing. It’s so fun to be able to see this book come to life with a new coat of paint. Or ink, actually!

Does this mean we’ll see Zombies Calling return?

Oh, heck no! My agent brought that book up when she sold Ellsmere to First Second, but I told her I wanted to leave it be. It’s fine when some old work passes into the creative afterlife. :)


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