Faith Erin Hicks is no stranger to middle grade graphic novels, and her next work, Ride On, leans into that with a passion. The new graphic novel from First Second Books, which ComicBook.com is exclusively announcing here, is loosely based on Hicks’ experience riding horses in her younger years. But Ride On, written and drawn by Hicks, is not just about horses; it’s also about loving something so much and then loving something else.
“Ride On is about young riders and horses and also Star Trek. So, I was a horse crazy girl in my younger years. I loved horses. I rode constantly. I would go and hang out at the barn with other young women who rode, and one boy, there was one boy who rode at the stables that I rode at when I was a young teen,” Hicks says of the new graphic novel. “And Ride On, it’s not a memoir. There is nothing in this book that is completely true to events that happened to me, but I would consider it emotionally true. So, it is based on, a little bit based on my experiences being this young, horse crazy girl, and also based on my experience of having this one thing in my life that I loved.”
Here’s an early synopsis of the upcoming graphic novel, according to First Second Books:
“Horseriding used to be everything Victoria thought about. But after she had a falling out with her childhood best friend, Taylor, she withdrew from riding and the riding community. During that time away she became interested in other hobbies, but her love for horseriding never left her. And so she returns to the riding community, this time at Edgewood stables, a less prestigious and lower pressure stable than the one she used to ride at. Here she makes new friends and also rekindles her passion for the sport.”
Keep reading to check out our full interview with Hicks all about the upcoming project, tentatively set to release Winter 2022, as well as several sample preview pages and art!
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Maybe this is a weird question, but I also feel like everyone’s story is going to be different to this question for people who are interested in it, which is to say, what drew you to horses? Why so interested in horses as a kid?
Oh gosh, that is a good question. And I have no idea. I feel like, oh my gosh, I remember reading something in a horse book that supposedly horses for young women represent this, I don’t know, incredible father figure in their life. I think Freud said that, which is just absolutely terrible. And that was, I don’t know if that was the case for me, but for me, horses were an escape. They were a sense of excitement and danger in my life. I grew up in the suburbs and had a very safe, fairly boring childhood. And then I got to gallop around on horseback which was exciting and dangerous and adventurous in a way that I didn’t necessarily have in my daily life. But yeah, the mystery of why girls, why young women love horses so much? I don’t know. I feel like that’s one for the ages.
WHY THIS BOOK?
Now, as an Eisner award winner, I feel like your schedule has to be pretty packed and you have lots of options as to what you might do next. Why this book of all possible books?
Yes, I’ve won two Eisner awards and that was wonderful. This one, it was a story that occurred to me quite a few years ago, I feel like probably five or six years ago. And I felt like there wasn’t really anything like it in the comic book market for young readers. There wasn’t any stories about young people and horses. And I feel like for a lot of kids, they grow up really loving animals and loving horses and just, nobody had drawn this graphic novel yet.
And I mean, I understand why. It’s because horses are really hard to draw. They are complicated and they’re difficult to draw. But I had this background where I had ridden a ton in my younger years. And then I’d drawn horses a ton when I was much younger. So, I had this familiarity with horse anatomy and I was like, well, if no one else is going to draw this book, then I guess I may as well. So yeah. Then I just kind of dove into it.
ON THE DELAYED ANNOUNCEMENT
You previously told me that this is the longest you’ve waited between working on a project and it being announced. Why the delay?
Oh, I just had other books to draw. So I was doing a fantasy trilogy called The Nameless City, so that took about three years of my life right there. And then I was collaborating on Pumpkinheads with Rainbow Rowell. So after I finished those books, that was when I dove into Ride On.
So nothing to do with the pandemic or anything?
Oh no, no. This book was written before the pandemic started. And then I’ve been drawing it throughout this year.
WHO IS THE BOOK FOR?
We talked a lot about horses and their importance, especially to young women. Who do you hope the book resonates with beyond, for lack of a better term, horse girls?
I mean, I hope it resonates with every young person who has maybe struggled with identity, who has struggled with their identity evolving a bit. Now that I’m an adult, it’s like I can look back on my childhood and be like, oh yeah, I can absolutely see where the things that were incredibly important to me at one stage of my life are less important to me now and that’s okay. But I also remember going through that change or that period of my life. It was really stressful and really sad, I guess. It feels really kind of scary when you have this one thing in your life that’s so important to you and it defines you and then you start to change. And maybe in a couple of years, that thing has taken more of a backseat. And then maybe it comes back into your life in the future. So, I don’t know. Hopefully that’s something that will resonate with young readers.
Right. I feel like everyone, at some point in their life, sort of mourns the person that they were.
Now have horses come back into your life since being that important?
Well, they haven’t now. I was actually looking into starting up riding again early this year. I live fairly close to a number of stables, and I was looking to maybe the possibility of venturing out and seeing if I could start it up again, but then the pandemic, unfortunately, put the stop to that.
ON HOW IT COMPARES TO OTHER GRAPHIC NOVELS
Now for Ride On specifically, what would you compare it to some of your other work, like people who are familiar with, I don’t know, One Year at Ellsmere and those sorts of things?
I would probably say it’s, in terms of the emotional core of the book, it is probably fairly similar to Friends with Boys, so rooted in my experiences. However, I feel like it’s a lot funnier. It’s a lot, I don’t know, not catchier, but I tried to invest a lot more humor in this book. Friends with Boys had this very melancholy thread that runs through it because it deals with very melancholy issues that I was struggling with, whereas Ride On, I feel like it’s a lot more fun and a lot more lighthearted, even though it does at times deal with drama and broken relationships in a person’s life. So, yeah, maybe a little bit of Friends with Boys, and then also, maybe a little bit of Pumpkinheads. I feel like, even though that was not written by me, I feel like Rainbow Rowell, she’s an amazing comedic writer, and I feel like that is something that definitely influenced Ride On.
As the artist and the writer, do you find it more difficult to inject that comedy rather than the sort of melancholic tone?
I really enjoy comedy, but I feel like I mostly enjoy it from a character perspective. So I like it when the humor comes from who a person is, like acting out in that way rather than gag comedy, which you would see in maybe newspaper strips, amazing newspaper strips like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side or something like that. I do love drama in my books, like who doesn’t love some good heart-wrenching drama? But I’m definitely someone who, oh man, especially at this point in history where it feels like we’re surrounded by such doom and gloom. I don’t want to do media that is overly dark or that really revels in its sadness or its darkness. Because for me, as a creator, that’s just not fun to really dwell on. I want to do something that is emotional and emotionally true, but then also has many lighthearted touches to it.
Right. Something that, for the middle grade graphic novel market, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of drama without wallowing in its sadness seems like the right sort of thing to do, right?
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s something I find really fun. I do find that balancing drama and sadness and emotional turmoil along with humor, I find that being able to walk that tight rope is a really great challenge and one I really enjoy.
ON THE NAME RIDE ON
Now, when I first spoke with Macmillan about this interview all the way back in February, which feels like a million years ago–
The book did have a different name. Why the name change?
Marketing didn’t like it. That’s the long and the short of it, yeah. I feel like, it’s usually 50-50. Some of my books, it’s like I come in with a title. The Nameless City series, I came in with that title and marketing was like, “Great!” I mean, I’m always going to defer to these guys unless I have a title that I feel very strongly about. That actually happened with my young adult novel, Comics Will Break Your Heart. Initially, the marketing at Macmillan was a little iffy on that. And I basically begged them. I was like, “No, no. This is important. This is a quote from Jack Kirby. I would really, really like to keep this title.” And yeah, they agreed to let me keep the title. But initially, Ride On was called The Edgewood Riders, which is just the name of the stable that these kids ride at.
And yeah, marketing just didn’t like that one. They felt it, I don’t know what it was, I think maybe it was too sterile or something like that. And, that’s fine. I was not particularly attached to the title. And then I managed to come up with Ride On, which I’m very excited about it. So yeah, finally, here it is, however many months ago that February was. And yeah, we finally have a title. And we only came up with it a few weeks ago. So, yeah. Very exciting.
ON WRITING, DRAWING, AND DOING BOTH
We’ve talked about this a little bit in terms of difficulties in injecting tone and things, but purely logistically, what do you find the most difficult about actually creating these graphic novels?
At this point in my career, where Ride On is my 15th graphic novel, although only about half of those I have written myself. So, the other half have been collaborations with other writers. But at this point, the thing that I find the most difficult is trying to come up with a story and a theme that I haven’t done before. When I think about new ideas that I would want to do in the future, I’m just like, oh, well, oh, I’d love to explore this. And then it’s like, oh wait, I already did that. So yeah. I feel like that’s this particularly unique mid-career struggle that I’m currently dealing with. So yeah, just coming up with something that is fresh and new and original to me. I’m perfectly fine with doing a story that maybe has been told by other creators and then bringing my own specificity to it. But yeah. Trying to come up with something that interests me that I haven’t done before.
You said you’ve done 15 books at this point. You’ve written, you’ve done art, you’ve done both. Do you have a preference at this point?
Oh, I like it all, to be honest. It’s really fun to do Avatar and write in crazy fight scenes and then hand them off to Peter to do an amazing job. I like collaborating with writers because then I get the chance to do a story that would probably be, that is very different from what I would come up with. And then, I love doing it all. I love doing a book that is entirely mine because I feel like that is when, I guess it’s like the closest to myself on the page. So, yeah. I like everything.
That’s interesting because I’ve talked to a bunch of different people and everyone seems to have their own take on when they get tired of doing one thing or another. But it sounds like you would just love to continue doing a mix.
Yeah, I think so. Everything brings different challenges. And yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I like the career I’ve had up until this point and I really hope I’ll just be able to continue doing what I’ve been doing.