Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Faith Erin Hicks-athon: Friends With Boys, Zombies Calling, & The War at Ellsmere

I know this blog is supposed to focus on manga, but lately I've been suffering from a bit of manga fatigue. A lot of the manga series that I gravitate to tend to cover very similar themes and in turn, provide a very similar reading experience. I suppose I could rectify this by just branching out into a wider variety of manga, but instead, I think I'll branch out into western comics. I've dabbled a little bit in superhero comics, but this time around I will be taking a look at Canadian web comic artist, Faith Erin Hicks' works.

 'Friends With Boys' is about a girl named Maggie who has been home schooled her whole life, but starting with ninth grade, she will be attending regular school. Needless to say, she is more than a little nervous. It's a difficult change in Maggie's life and it doesn't help that her mother left the family and she blames herself. Not to mention she is being stalked by a ghost....Follow Maggie as she tries to adjust to high school, makes new friends and deals with her haunting issue.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. It's not that I didn't think I would like it, I just didn't think I would like it this much. First off, the art is pretty amazing. The style is very unique(at least from what I have seen) and it is so detailed. The pages and panels are completely filled up with detailed artwork. I really love that. Packed pages. So much in the manga I read, the art is often too minimalistic, especially when it comes to backgrounds. I love a loaded page that you really have to give it a good look to take it all in. 'Friends With Boys' definitely fits that bill. I also really loved the characters and there interactions. Both Maggie and Lucy were extremely likable, and their school life experiences felt very authentic. At first I thought that the supernatural element would bother me, but it ended up being fine. I don't want to say it was unnecessary, but it definitely wasn't the main appeal for me. I'd much rather have more normal, character interactions in that plot line's place. I guess that's just the slice-of-life manga fan in me talking though. In the end, I'm very pleased with my first Faith Erin Hicks book and I would love if there was a continuation of this story.

The next Faith Erin Hicks book I took a look at was 'Zombies Calling', which is not at all about zombies....Okay, yes it is, but it is a little different than your usual, horror zombie flick. 'Zombies' calling is the story of a college student named Joss. Joss is a Canadian girl that loves British culture, is plagued by student loan debt, and is obsessed with zombie movies. That latter is something that will save her life. You see, Joss is so familiar with zombie movies that she know the "rules" by heart. These "rules" are the unifying themes featured in all zombie movies and they help her keep one step ahead of the undead menace. Little did Joss know, that she would actually be able to put these rules into practice one day when a zombie epidemic broke out on her college campus. Together with her friends Robyn and Sonnet, Joss will do her best to apply these rules and survive a zombie apocalypse.

I wouldn't say I am much of a zombie fiction fan. I guess I kind of liked a few of the "Living Dead" series when I was a kid, but now I think they are kind of silly. And 'Zombies Calling' kind of takes a poke at that silliness with a more humorous take on the genre. At the same time though, the story was quite suspenseful. There were times when I was a little worried for the characters. This book features an art style similar to 'Friends With Boys', if not a little less refined. That and the art work is just as detailed, if not more so on some pages. So needless to say, I liked it. I didn't connect as much with the characters in this book as I did with 'Friends With Boys'. Maybe that's because I didn't have the time. It was about half as long after all. Even so, the character interactions were top notch. Again, this normal, everyday dialogue between characters really appeals to the slice-of-life manga fan in me, and I feel like this is a real strength of Faith Erin Hicks' writing. I found this book to be a really quick read, which is definitely a positive thing. A lot of the manga I read have story arcs that are often long and sometimes tedious to get through. It's nice to read a story that you can finish in one sitting. I can't say I enjoyed this quite as much as 'Friends With Boys', but it was still fun and worth the time I put into it.

The final Faith Erin Hicks book that I took a look at was 'The War at Ellsmere'. Juniper is a girl from a not so well-to-do family that has received a scholarship to attend the full of well-to-do Ellsmere Academy. Inspired by her father's death due to illness, Jun is determined to become a doctor, and to do so, she feels she must attend a prestigious school in order to fast track her success. The problem is, she doesn't quite fit in at this new school. With only one friend in the quirky Cassie, Jun must keep up with her demanding studies, as well as fend off the "mean girls" of her new school, who don't want her around.

The whole time reading this story, I was a little uncomfortable with the bullying plot line. I really have a weak stomach for that kind of drama. Fortunately for me, the book is relatively short, so my heart didn't have to suffer that tension for too long. And Juniper's wonderful character made it all bearable. I think out of the three main characters from the Faith Erin Hicks books I've read for this blog post, you get to know Juniper the most. At least that's how it felt for me. I became an immediate fan of hers when she stood up to her bullies 19 pages in. The other highlight of this story that stood out for me was Juniper's friendship with Cassie. After reading three of Faith Erin Hicks' books, I'm seeing that it is pretty common to have great dialogue and dynamic between characters, and the great, school-life conversations between Jun and Cassie were really enjoyable for me. More than anything, I think this story was about Jun and Cassie becoming friends and then strengthening their bond. After 'Friends With Boys', 'The War at Ellsmere' is probably my next favorite of the three Faith Erin Hicks books I've read. Like I said, I'm not exactly a fan of bullying drama(the bullying drama in 'Friends With Boys' felt more realistic and authentic, so I didn't mind it as much as Emily's "evil mastermind" ways), but the cool characters were more than enough to enjoy this read.

In the end, I had a really good break from manga. I found three hits in a row, and a new comic creator to be a fan of. If any of these comics sound interesting to you, head on over to Faith Erin Hicks' web site where you can sample her illustrations, find links to purchase her published books, and even read some of her web comics for free.

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