Your first day of school. Do you remember it? I know I do because I wore a strawberry dress with black biking shorts and slouch boots. I was five. In Friends With Boys, Maggie is wearing loose-fitting jeans and plaid shirt. She is (probably) 14 and entering public high school after years of being home-schooled.
It only takes until a few pages to encounter the first problem. Maggie, our precocious freshman, is the only daughter in a family with three brothers and a police chief father, but Maggie’s mother left the family to celebrate no longer having to home-school any children. Our heroine is strong though, taking the first walk to school by herself, through a graveyard no less and sporting tiny pigtails that can be repeatedly mistaken for Sailor Moon-esque ondongos.
Maggie and her brothers
What kind of friends will Maggie have? There is definitely a waifish ghost who pops up occasionally (making me wonder if all girls with black hair are constantly bothered by blond spectres). Maggie makes friends with punk rock sister and brother combination, Lucy and Alistair. You know Lucy is a badass because she is friendly, outgoing, likes to explore forgotten places and wears Peaches shirts. Al could be just some handsome do-nothing, but there is always a lot of high school drama around him that has yet to be explained. (On the other hand, Alistair does seem like the name for a centaur-in-human-disguise). The pair is quite charming since they always seem to be hanging out together, not something I assume you would see with teenage siblings.
Maggie’s new friend, Lucy
Every line Faith Erin Hicks commits to the page is undoubtedly beautiful. From the first page that peaks into Maggie’s messy room — hatch marks riddling the floor to create discarded socks, forgotten water glasses and a much-loved book — to the aesthetically-pleasing character design, you’re hooked. Lovely spot blacks compliment the marvelously-executed graytones.
If you’re the kind of person who reads the posted commentary under the comics, you’ll see a lot of hints for “easter eggs” in the strips (like nods to popular TV shows or pointing out a walk-on role of a character from another webcomic). Hicks also gives advice on comics and shows her creative process. One of my favorite quotes is: “I started drawing comics and putting them online in 1999. Since 1999 I have drawn over 1800 pages of comics. Of those comics, I have been paid for 550 pages. I have been paid a living wage for 350 pages.” The key to any great comic is working hard and practice.
It turns out that Hicks based this story on her own background, home-schooled with three brothers, and I had to ask her if drawing the comic helped work through any issues she might have had growing up in that environment: “Weirdly enough, writing Friends With Boys brought out a lot of my ambivalence towards homeschooling, feelings that I didn’t really expect to have in such abundance. It was frustrating to relive the social issues I had in high school, and realize that a lot of them were due to me having so little experience interacting with my peers. My brothers like the comic. . . I recently discovered all three of them can dance, too, which I am very envious of.”
In regards to homeschooling her own potential future children (who would all be wearing silver pants, of course, this is the future we’re talking about) Hicks stated, “I don’t think I would homeschool any of my kids. I’ve had the occasional charged comment from a reader on the site, talking about their horrible experiences in grade school, and how they’d have given anything to be homeschooled. Their perspective is different from mine; you want better for your kids, so those that had a terrible time in publich school may look seriously at homeschooling as an alternative. I enjoyed homeschooling while I did it, but the social consequences that came after as I tried to integrate into high school were very very difficult. I would not homeschool because of those experiences. But that’s my choice.”
You might also recognize Faith Erin Hicks’ work from the widely popular online comic Demonology 101, her current comic: The Adventures of Superhero Girl, or the recent release from First Second, Brain Camp. Updating Monday through Friday, Friends With Boys is soon to be released by First Second.
Join friends online to read Friends With Boys and find out what happened to Maggie’s mom and why Alistair could be trouble.
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