Archive for Faith Erin Hicks

The Unnamed Land

This is the first book in a series that’s been out for a while, but I only had a chance to get it recently when I found out the local library had it. So let’s take a look at The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks.

The setting is extremely important in this book. The City is a center for trade and commerce, a gateway to the rest of the world, one of the most important locations on this world. And there are frequent wars fought over it. Different nations take control over it every few years, and they always change the City’s name to something completely different. But the people who live in the City — not the visitors, not the conquerors — they never accept the new names. To the people who live there, it’s just the Nameless City, the greatest city in the world.

So we start out meeting Kai, a boy from the Dao nation, which currently rules the City. The Dao are warriors, but Kai really doesn’t care for fighting, just for books, which leaves him alienated from the other Dao boys. Kai is here to visit his father, General Andren, who serves the ruler, the General of All Blades. Andren loves the City and encourages Kai to explore his new home.

And then there’s Rat, a girl who lives on the street. She doesn’t like the Dao — or any of the other outsiders. She challenges Kai to a race over the City’s rooftops, and when he later begs her to teach him to run, in exchange for food from the palace, there’s the beginning of a friendship between the two kids.

But there are political intrigues going on behind the scenes that hold dangers for Kai, Rat, the people they love, and the entire City. Can they save the Nameless City and help bring its people stop hating each other?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Listen, Faith Erin Hicks is just the best. Do I need to say anything more in a review? She’s just the best.

Okay, I guess I do need to say a little more. I love the heck out of all these characters. Kai and Rat are brilliant and lovable and complex and precisely the kinds of heroes you need to anchor a book and series like this.

But there’s also Kai’s father, the drill sergeant Erzi, the unstoppably badass bodyguard Mura, and the General of All Blades — not a tyrant, like we expect, but a book-loving man willing to listen to strange ideas to improve the city he runs.

Hicks’ art has always been wonderful, but I feel like she really leveled up with this book. She creates a whole, massive city, intricately detailed — and as much time as Kai and Rat spend running over the rooftops, that means she had to draw so many of the City’s tiny roof tiles!

Her characters are always charismatic and fun, and with the City as a character just as important as the humans here, she makes almost every image of the City and its people just as appealing.

It’s a downright fantastic book, and you should absolutely go pick it up.

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Friends with Everyone


Friends with Boys

It’s been a while since I reviewed a graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks — and luckily, I have one sitting right here that I can write about…

Maggie is the youngest kid in her family, preparing to start high school. She’s been home-schooled prior to this and doesn’t have a lot of friends — or really, any friends other than her older brothers. So while her brothers are as helpful as they can with trying to get her adjusted to the new world she’s stepping into, she still has a lot to figure out on her own. So she has to navigate the mean kids and the kids who ignore her and the two friendly punks — who her brothers are inexplicably hostile to.

And on top of that, Maggie is being haunted by a ghost that started following her around after she visited the cemetery.

Can Maggie make it through her first months in school? Can she make friends? Can she survive the mean kids on the volleyball team? Can she figure out how to put the ghost to rest?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a charismatic, funny, wonderfully human book.

Do we even need to talk about the art? If you’ve ever seen Hicks’ work, you know her art is primo. Her art is always fun, and if you love her art, that may be enough reason all on its own for you to pick this up.

The story itself is nothing earthshattering — it’s just a story about a kid in school, her very normal friends, her very normal enemies, her very normal family, her very normal problems. And a slightly out-of-the-normal ghost. No one has to save the world — but a great story doesn’t require the world to get saved, right? It’s a normal story, and it drags you right in.

The characters really shine in this book. It’s easy to love these characters — not just because they’re drawn attractively, but because they’re depicted, both in art and writing, with such great clarity and style. They all feel like real people — might be because Hicks has a few similarities with Maggie, but it’s also because she’s a wonderful storyteller as well as a wonderful artist.

It’s a great comic — and hey, kudos to First Second Books, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite comics publishers for all the amazing books they’ve put on the shelves. Anyway, go pick this one up, people.

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Robots and Cheerleaders and School Funding!


Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Here’s a nice, thick, but light-hearted graphic novel written by Prudence Shen and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks.

Our lead character is Charlie, the captain of the high school basketball team, whose main interests outside of basketball involve not having terrible things happen to him. Unfortunately, he’s stuck between two opposing forces — his best friend Nate (and his cohorts in the robotics club) and his ex-girlfriend Holly (and her fellow cheerleaders). See, the robotics club wants funding to attend a robotics competition, and the cheerleaders want funding for new uniforms — and there’s not enough funding for both.

So Nate decides to run for student body president, and in retaliation, the cheerleaders register Charlie as a candidate, too. And from there, the campaign gets really ugly really fast, as both sides unleash a string of dirty tricks, most of which end up humiliating Charlie. After both sides end up defacing the football field, the principal declares that neither the robotics club nor the cheerleaders are going to get the funding they want. So what happens now? Both sides are going to have to team up to get the funding they want — with deadly robot warriors!

Wait, so it turns into a science fiction epic? No, not really, though the book jacket does kinda leave that impression. With the cheerleaders offering up some money to help out, the robotics club converts their robot — designed to compete in a standard autonomous robotics competition to demonstrate that the team is good at engineering and programming — into a fighting robot, designed to compete in remote-controlled robot fighting leagues, which have much different requirements. Like built-in chainsaws. Can Charlie, Nate, the robotics club, and the cheerleaders prevail? Can they get the funding they need to complete their projects? Can the survive the repercussions of ditching their families on Thanksgiving Day?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a great, fun little story. It’s the type of thing that looks kinda light and airy — oh, just a high school story. But there’s also action, high drama, comedy, angst, conflict — and robots. Fighting robots! They could make this a movie, and it’d probably make scads of money.

The characterization is great, too. Sad sack Charlie, arrogant Nate, cold, steely Holly (the other cheerleaders take their cues from her), passionate, robot-loving Joanna, the pervy, hilarious twins, and even Charlie’s camping-obsessed father. Again, you put these people in a movie, and it’d be hilarious.

A lot of what I love about this book is how much it does seem like a movie. I kinda get the impression that Shen originally planned to make this a screenplay before opting to go the graphic novel route. I could be wrong, of course — but either way, there’s a great eye here for fast-moving, kinetic storytelling. And if I’m the first person to ever think of making this into a movie, and it eventually does hit the big screen, I want a percentage on points.

And of course, there’s the art. We’ve talked before about how awesome Faith Erin Hicks is, right? Awesome, charismatic, emotive artwork. She’s great at showing action, great at showing emotions, great at showing big, dramatic moments. She’s a fantastic cartoonist, and we should thank our lucky stars she’s getting as much work as she is.

This comic was a blast. Go pick it up.

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Superhero Girl vs. the World!


The Adventures of Superhero Girl

It’s always kind of a risky thing to recommend a book that collects all the episodes of a webcomic. Why should you buy a book when you can get the comics online for free? I reckon it’s a fair question. And we’ll get to it a bit later.

But first: This is Faith Erin Hicks’ tribute to the workaday college-age superhero, “The Adventures of Superhero Girl,” originally published online — but she’s put it on hiatus for now because she’s been getting a lot more work lately doing art for other comics. So Dark Horse put them all together in one nice hardcover collection for us.

Superhero Girl is a superhero — and a girl! We never learn her real name, but she patrols a smallish Canadian city fighting crime. She has fairly generic superhero powers — strength, invulnerability, laser vision, and super-jumping — but her costume is basically normal clothing with a cape and domino mask. She fights ninjas and giant monsters and the occasional supervillain. And she also tries to live a fairly normal life, with a roommate who’s irritated by her crimefighting, a nonexistent social life, and trips to the laundromat to wash her cape. She tends to forget to take off her mask, which makes her secret identity a bit of a non-secret.

So she rescues cats from trees — by uprooting the trees. She tangles with King Ninja, a hipster with a shrink ray, the Spectacle, the Marshmallow Menace, a bear with a monocle — and her nemesis, a guy who doesn’t believe she’s an actual superhero. And she also tangles with job hunting, knitting, sunburns, cape shrinkage, jealousy over her brother Kevin’s wildly over-the-top success as a hero, and much, much more.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a charming, funny book with Hicks’ awesome, emotive artwork. You get superhero battles and everyday hijinx, all wonderfully funny and all really fun to read.

Why should you get the book instead of reading it all for free online? Well, there are a bunch of reasons, honestly. There’s a really keen introduction by Kurt Busiek. All the comics are in color, unlike the black-and-white art online. It’s a great way to support an awesome cartoonist. And it’s easier to read in book form than it is online. Especially if you’re reading it in the bathroom. And if you’re one of those weirdos who reads a tablet computer on the pot — please, just stop. You’re making the world a worse place.

The best reason? It’s fantastic art and storytelling, and these days, we all need more great art and storytelling.

It’s a fun book, and you should go pick it up.

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