Faith Erin Hicks’s Friends with Boys begin as a serial web comic. Taking the skills she had learned as an animator and the experience she had in creating two previous books, reading Friends with Boys as it unfolded online was an experience that included Hicks’s meditations on the process of creating comics as she created one.
Friends with Boys is the story of Maggie McKay, who is attending public school for the first time as a high school freshman after years of being homeschooled with her three brothers. Anxious about the new social scene and grieving the loss of her mother who has left the family, Maggie’s challenges include the usual trials and tribulations of a high school freshman, in addition to being haunted by a lonely ghost.
Instead of relying on words to convey Maggie’s experience, Hicks’s pictures capture a lot of the uncertainty and confusion of an observer trying to make sense of the things she sees. Several of the conflicts in the book feature unspoken relationships --- mysteries that Maggie gradually unravels as she picks up the non-verbal cues in the world around her. This approach puts the reader in Maggie’s shoes as observations and overheard comments eventually combine to present a complicated pecking order involving her brothers and her new friends.
Friends with Boys also contains a lot of ambiguities as it reflects some of the unresolvable conflicts Maggie faces. When a Scooby Doo-style adventure breaking into her town’s maritime museum to steal artifacts fails to appease the restless ghost that haunts her, Maggie must come to terms with the fact that there are some kinds of unfinished business that cannot be put to rest so easily. The family dynamic involving her three brothers is equally complex as Maggie realizes that even her identical twin brothers sometimes feel isolated and lonely.
Now available as a graphic novel, Friends with Boys is an appealing title about the experience of uncertainty and loneliness, as well as the joy and anticipation of making new friends. The supernatural elements are understated, more of a metaphor than a plot point, though the presence of the ghost and the age of intended readership will definitely draw comparisons to last year’s graphic novel hit, Anya's Ghost, about a girl who finds her new --- and somewhat threatening --- best friend at the bottom of a well. Despite the maturity of its existential themes, Friends with Boys is a safe title for young readers with little in the way of gore or sexuality and is appropriate for ages 10+.
My favorite aspect of Friends with Boys is reading the author’s comments on creating comics. While the Friends with Boys website now contains only a 20-page preview of the full book, the author has left all of her comments intact so you can read along with the book. This adds a whole new dimension to the book, demanding that readers take a closer look at the thought, skill, and nuance that went into its creation.
Here are some other titles by Faith Erin Hicks:
The War at Ellsmere is about Jun, a scholarship student at an exclusive girls boarding school. This title has several things in common with Friends with Boys including the fish-out-of-water scholastic setting and rumors of a supernatural creature that lives in the woods just outside the school. Luckily Jun has an ally in her friend Cassie who makes sure Jun is up on all the latest school legends.
Zombies Calling! is about Joss a college student broke and in the middle of exams who is suddenly faced with an outbreak of zombies. Fortunately, Joss knows the Rules of Zombie Movies, which gives her a fighting chance at survival. Necessary zombie lore and gore make this title best for older readers and zombie afficionados. Fans of zombie satire Sean of the Dead will particularly enjoy this book.
What are your favorite graphic novels? What emerging artists do you follow in the graphic format?
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