Comics Will Break Your Heart
It’s a famous phrase, at least amongst comic creators. “Comics will break your heart,” reportedly said Jack Kirby, expressing how many people love and are hurt by a tough business with little room for success.
It’s also the title of a comic-centered teen romance novel by incredibly productive and talented cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks. (I previously wrote about a few of her inspirations for the story.)
It’s a great choice, as Hicks uses the kind of background fans are familiar with to give her opposites-attract love story depth and drama. Miriam’s grandfather co-created the now world-famous comic about the TomorrowMen, but he sold his rights decades ago. She’s left in this small Canadian town with no idea how to get out, and no money to do so. The cute new boy in town, sent to stay with his aunt and uncle as punishment for bad behavior, is the grandson of the other creator, who’s since made a fortune.
They’re interested in each other, but then she finds out that he’s the heir of her arch-enemy. There’s a movie coming out with the characters, so there’s even more attention on the legacy Miriam could have had. The publicity is also why Weldon was sent out of town, to avoid embarrassing his wannabe movie mogul father.
The background is familiar, well-known to anyone with geek connections, but fresh and creative where Hicks has added her own twists. There are also some well-observed relationship challenges, as Miriam is facing what it would mean for her life-long friendships if she were to leave town for university, and Weldon struggles with his relationship with his divorced parents, particularly his aging science-fiction actress mother.
It’s easy to second-guess a choice made by less-experienced creators. Heck, the entire American comics business is based on a publisher acquiring Superman from two young men for a steal. Miriam’s anger at her grandfather’s choice, and her mother’s decision not to keep up the fight, is easier to deal with than her confusion and uncertainty over what she wants to do. For all the fan nods and in-jokes (none of which get in the way of the story), that’s the part I most sympathized with. You don’t have to be a teenager to feel lost and confused about the difference between what you’re supposed to want out of life and not knowing what you’d most like to do.
Comics Will Break Your Heart is a lovely read, a realistic-feeling treatment of how history shapes families and the difficulty of wanting more and different things and the struggle over creator rights. It’s a fabulous book for any comic or romance fan. Faith Erin Hicks made a short comic about writing the book. (The publisher provided an advance review copy, that I am almost two years late writing about.)