May 15, 2013 by Heidi
Today I’m very happy to have the magnificent author/artist duo of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks here for a Q&A about robots, fears, and their new graphic novel. In case you missed it, I reviewed the book yesterday, and I have to admit it’s one of the most fun reading experiences I’ve had all year.
I’m a big fan of good dedications, and yours were no exception, but they made me wonder:
Prudence Shen–If your parents had bought you a robot, what would it have done?
Pru: This is where I get weird. In theory, a perfect robot would have been one who helped me clean my room, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts that I would have been crippled with guilt at having forced my chores on my poor robot friend. Ideally, I think the robot would have just been my buddy, and made snotty comments at me when I forgot things.
(So basically, you wanted Geoff Peterson.)
Faith Erin Hicks–Do you see a bit of yourself in Joanna (our resident Geek Girl)?
Faith: Sure, I see a little bit of myself, in that Joanna is passionate about her geeky interests, and works hard to accomplish her goals. I’m not interested in making robots, but if you turn Joanna’s passion into comics, she’s pretty similar to me.
Graphic novels today are making the format much more accessible to a wider number of readers because the content is so much more varied, and they’re also opening the world of reading up to reluctant readers. Prudence, I’m curious, what made you as a writer for young adults go for this medium?
Pru: The medium came to me! I wrote Voted Most Likely as a prose manuscript, which was acquired by First Second with the intention of adapting it for graphic novel format. It’s a very active story, so it took to images really well, I think!
Going along with that, I’ll admit, I didn’t start reading graphic novels until a few years ago when I discovered there were things like Sandman and Fables, graphic novels that covered things I was interested in and not just superhero stuff. When did you ladies discover the format, and what made you fall in love with it?
Pru: I grew up with a different version of graphic novels that is likely unfamiliar to a lot of your readers, actually. A ton of classical Chinese stories are done in almost silent movie format, with gorgeously rendered images and excerpts of the text. It’s how I read A Dream of Red Mansions and Journey to the West as a kid. As I got older I got into Japanese manga with titles like Hikaru no Go and Ranma 1/2. Western graphic novels I didn’t discover until recently, and serialized comics even more recently.
Faith: I’m Canadian, and like all good Canadian children, I grew up reading Asterix and Tintin comics, which are common here inCanada, not so prevalent in the United States. I think that’s where my initial comics-loving spark came from, but for years in-between childhood and adulthood, I didn’t read many comics due to a lack of availability. The first comic series I really enjoyed as a young adult was Bone by Jeff Smith. This was back before it because this huge Scholastic phenomenon and instead was self-published by Smith and his wife. I used to collect the black and white editions of Bone and read them feverishly; they were the kind of comics I really wanted to read. From there I moved on to other graphic novels and eventually to manga, mostly because I moved to a city (Halifax, Nova Scotia) that had a good local comic store and a really good library system that was supportive of comics, so suddenly I had access to all kinds of comics. And now I work in comics full time and my four giant bookshelves are filled to bursting with comics. I need more bookshelves!
One of my favorite aspects of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is all of the references (Jurassic Park), and all of the kitchie shirts and posters–particularly the Zombies Are Love poster (which was clearly a zombiefied Love Is… to me). But all of these little background details help to tell a bigger story about the characters and who they are. So…
Chicken or the egg? When working together, how do you collaborate between the writing and the art? Do you storyboard as you go and give one another input, or did Prudence do all the writing prior to Faith creating the physical characters?
Pru: The writing on Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong was completed before Faith actually saw the story, and from there she took a fairly long prose novel and had to adapt it for graphic novel format. I think some of the jokes leaked in from the original story, but a lot of the hidden gems that are visual (think the posters in Nate’s room etc) were all Faith.
Faith: The book version of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (originally called Voted Most Likely) was finished before I stepped in to adapt it to comics. Pru and I worked separately for the most part; I went away and made an outline and then a script based on Prudence’s novel, and when that was approved by her, went off to draw all 280 pages of the comic. Pretty much all of the background stuff (posters, etc) was created by me, just random things that I thought would be amusing.
When working on Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong together, did you get together in the same physical space, or did you work long distance, and how did this challenge you?
Pru: The internet is the answer to most questions these days, and thank God for it. For most of the book’s creation I was actually in London, so we had to content with a serious time difference as well as distance. It was actually less painful than you think since the novel was already completed, there wasn’t as much necessary back and forth as if it had still been a live manuscript.
Faith: We were definitely very far away from each other! I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I believe Prudence was in London for most of the time I was illustrating the book. We had the internet and skype if we needed to confer about the book, so it wasn’t a big deal. Viva the internet!
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is in black and white. Faith, what are the advantages and challenges about working in a graphic medium with shades of grey? (Not like that.)
Faith: I like working in black and white a lot. Most of my projects have been black and white comics, it’s definitely my preferred medium. I have one comic that I really liked seeing in colour, The Adventures of Superhero Girl, which was published by Dark Horse Comics earlier this year. That comic was great to translate to colour because it made it look like a Saturday morning cartoon, which was exactly what I was going for. With Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, there wasn’t really any reason for it to be in colour, and I find teenagers (the targeted reader for this book) don’t tend to care if a book is colour or black and white. They’re used to reading black and white manga, so black and white is cool with them. Plus, if the book is black and white, it can be published for cheaper, so teens can actually afford it!
I’m also curious about how you draw. Do you do so by hand, or do you use the computer?
Faith: I draw by hand, or “traditionally.” I draw with a coloured mechanical pencil on large sheets of thick special paper (calledBristol), and then I ink those penciled pages with a watercolour brush (Winsor & Newton Series 7, size 2) and a small bottle of ink. It’s a very laborious process. It took me about a year and a half to draw Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an inker. I didn’t know that’s what it was called, and I had no interest in comics, I just wanted to be the person who colored in panels on Disney movies (I was very good at coloring in the lines). What did you ladies want to be when you were little kids?
Pru: At least you weren’t calling yourself or other brave inkers tracers? As for me, this is awful, but: as a little kid, I wanted to be a lawyer. I have no excuse for this. Then for a while during college — when I was convinced I was going to flunk out — I looked really seriously into culinary school. I think part of me still wants to be a cook, but mostly, I’m happy to be a writer.
Faith: I wanted to be a veterinarian! I really loved animals and I thought helping animals all day would be a fantastic job. But then I fell in love with writing and drawing and now I make comics. And I’m very happy this is my job.
The plot of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong plays with a very tried and true TV trope, but in its own fun way. I’d love to know how you struck a balance between putting a spin on a familiar story and doing it in a graphic form that would be familiar to readers. Was this all part of the master plan, or did it happen organically?
Pru: Faith can speak more readily to the graphic form of this, but from a plot perspective, I wanted desperately to warp as many cliches as possible. At this point in YA storytelling, I think that the jocks versus nerds thing is so played out that its inversion is a cliche, too. The reality of the thing is so much more complicated. I struggle often to see shades of my own teenaged experience in books about the so-called teenaged experience, and when I was putting together the story I wanted to create something that felt true to me if no one else. The story shares a frame with a lot of teen narratives, but within it all the cliques and social strata are completely mixed, and that’s how high school felt to me. Maybe even more important than that was showing two examples of how you can have a square peg and a round hole and find yourself forced either way: Nate should be a retreating nerd, in fact all of his friends call him on it, and he never backs down. His only moments of doubt are when his treatment of Charlie is called into question. Charlie should be happy and popular, and instead he’s so uncomfortable in his own skin he can oftentimes barely get through the day. Worse, no one sympathizes, and discards his insecurities as baseless. It’s that sort of thing I connected with more than any larger social categorization.
Faith: When it came to depicting the world of NCPGW visually, I knew I had to be careful. I think the best thing about NCPGW’s story is that it takes cliches (jocks, nerds, cheerleaders) and plays around with them. If I’d gone gung ho into representing these characters in a stereotypical way, like say making Nate a visual stereotype of a nerd, complete with braces, glasses and a bowl haircut, it would have completely undermined the story Prudence was trying to tell. So I made sure that every character in the story, from Charlie to Joanna to the cheerleaders, looked like real human beings, not stereotypes. Sure, Charlie is buffer than Nate because Charlie plays basketball, and the cheerleaders wear their powerful cheerleader uniforms while at school, but they’re not the typical representation of JOCK and CHEERLEADER. They’re well-rounded, three dimensional characters who happen to be cheerleaders and basketball players.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong works to break down traditional high school social barriers and mix them up a bit. In particular, we see Charlie struggling as he’s wedged between the jocks and the geeks, while attempting to deal (or not deal) with his divorced parents at home. How do the strong influences of friends and family make writing for young adults more difficult or more fun?
Pru: In a weird way, I don’t know that I write those influences most authentically. Surely I was affected by my friends as a kid, especially as a teenager, but it’s been a long time since my friends tried to peer pressure me into anything, and I’ve developed into such a singularly weird person it’s hard to grasp what that feeling is like. Parents are easier, because to this day the crippling guilt and fear of disappointing them dictates a lot of adult decisions — I think that’s most evident in Charlie, who’s been suffering silently under his own disappointment and frustration with his folks for years, and never saying a word. His silences shape his entire narrative arc in this story.
Charlie finds tiny ponies terrifying. Joanna’s creeped out by happy lawn gnomes. What do you find terrifying?
Pru: FISH. I hate fish SO MUCH. I can’t look at goldfish. I can’t look at sea fish. I can’t look at river fish. I honestly thought I was never going to be able to watch Finding Nemo because the thought of watching fish voluntarily for two hours freaked me out too badly. Thank God the animated versions didn’t scare me the way their real life devil brethren do. And before you ask: I seriously have no idea where this phobia comes from — just that it’s strong.
Faith: Clowns. I’ve never met a clown that didn’t scare the crap out of me.
Thank you ladies so much for taking the time to answer my questions today! And thanks to the wonderful team over at First Second I have a copy to share with one lucky reader today.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks is in stores now.
You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely—until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders. At stake is funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms—but not both.
It’s only going to get worse: after both parties are stripped of their funding on grounds of abominable misbehavior, Nate enrolls the club’s robot in a battlebot competition in a desperate bid for prize money. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not. Running away from home on Thanksgiving to illicitly enter a televised robot death match? Of course!
In Faith Erin Hicks’ and Prudence Shen’s world of high school class warfare and robot death matches, Nothing can possibly go wrong.
- Thanks to First Second, you have the opportunity to win a finished copy of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks.
- Open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada only.
- Once a winner has been selected, you will have 24 hours to respond to my e-mail before an alternative winner will be chosen.
Good luck and enjoy!