The latest 2000AD Sci Fi Special was released last week and I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Terror Tale, “The Hockey Sticks of Hell”, from writer Olivia Hicks with art by Abigail Bulmer.
Phillip Vaughan, Senior Lecturer at the University of Dundee and Art Director at Dundee Comics Creative Space, has very kindly given downthetubes permission to re-publish this interview with Olivia Hicks, which first appeared on the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies website…
(Note that the interview was first published before the story was published).
Olivia Hicks is a University of Dundee Comics PhD student (and friend of the DCCS and SCCS). As well as her “Terror Tale”, her first mainstream comics work, her comics work includes the webcomic Sarararara: All American Girl, and much more.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: When did you attend the University of Dundee for your Masters?
Olivia: I attended the masters course way back when in 2014. I started doing the PhD in 2016.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: What is your PhD topic?
Olivia: My PhD topic is on Super Teen Heroines (or Super-Girls) in British and American girls’ comics.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Supergirl, who’s one of the most fascinating and overlooked comics characters, and also writing about relatively forgotten British characters like Valda and the Supercats. #Girlpower
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: How do you think either of these courses impacted your view of comics/ writing process?
Olivia: Oh man, well, I don’t think I was super fluent in writing comics before I came, and through working on a comic for my masters dissertation I kind of hit upon a way of writing comics that works for me (which is to work out the story and dialogue exclusively through thumbnails and then write up the script if someone else needs to see it, which was how the “Terror Tale” got written).
I also didn’t know like… anything about comics history before doing the Masters. I had seen British girls’ comics before the Masters, but I didn’t know what they were, because British annuals don’t look like American comics, and that was how I thought of comics. So I kind of learned that comics were a medium that were much more generically and aesthetically diverse than the rather narrow batch of comics I was used to.
And I also learned about Western comics history; stuff like the Comics Scare and EC Comics’ role within that. I’m mentioning this because these are all things I drew on hard when I was writing this script for 2000AD.
Putting it mildly, if I hadn’t done the Masters/ wasn’t doing the PhD, I have no idea what I would have written, because the script is so steeped in British comics heritage and history. I guess I would have just given Tharg some blank pages with a ‘SORRY L’ scrawled on them.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: Did you work for the SCCS? If so when?
Olivia: I did! I was the Doctoral Fellow for the SCCS last year. I used my power to organise a girls’ comics symposium, and we had leading British girls’ comics scholars come up… it was seriously one of the best days, ever.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: Can you give me an overview of how you came to get published in a 2000AD special issue?
Olivia: Sure. So basically back when I was an undergraduate I knew I wanted to work with comics/ wanted to do the Masters, and I had to organise work experience as a part of the Creative Writing course I was on (I was down at Manchester Metropolitan at the time).
I wrote a very nice letter to a bunch of different publishers, and Matt Smith, the editor of 2000AD, very kindly let me do two weeks of work experience. So they knew me from then, and then over this last winter I was interviewing Ben Smith, the head of Rebellion Publishing for another project, so I knew I was vaguely on their radar as like, a speck or an ant, but it turns out that somehow they were aware that I had been creating indie comics.
I don’t know how they knew this. I don’t know how it came to their attention. But Matt reached out and asked me if I wanted to write a “Terror Tale” script and I jumped up and screamed in the office I was working in, exactly like Joan Cusack at the end of Working Girl.
So I started working on a script and after a couple of weeks Matt was like “… Hello? Is everything OK?’ and I was like “I can’t think of an ending!” and he came up with some really helpful suggestions and was super supportive and then the script got finished and sent off to artist Abigail Bulmer.
So, talk to your editors. They are the best humans.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: How has the reception of your work been? (Have you had any early reception/ honours/ accolades?)
Olivia: The “Terror Tale” is currently tightly under lock and key and no reviews have hit the internet yet, so I don’t know yet if people will hate it or love it. Abigail Bulmer, the amazing artist, liked it, and Matt thought it was fun, and that’s pretty important.
I would like it if other people enjoyed it, but at least Abby didn’t feel like she was wasting her time drawing it. It’s her first time drawing for 2000AD, so I wanted her to have as much fun as possible.
It’s important to me that artists enjoy working on my scripts, because I’ve drawn stuff in the past that I wasn’t really feeling and it was torture.
I don’t often get lots of feedback on my comics work, but one time I edited a Commando comic that Phil Vaughan described as “memorable” and I’m still dining out on that.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: What were your inspirations for your story?
Olivia: Enid Blyton meets EC Comics. British meets American. Girls comics meet 2000AD.
When you’re working for a company, it’s important to read their output to try and situate your work appropriately. I was pretty familiar with 2000AD, but I had never read a “Terror Tale”, so I bought a volume of it, and I basically took my cues from Gordon Rennie. Full credit to him. He writes Terror Tales which are parodies of mid twentieth century American morality scares and this kind of moralising appeared in boys’ and girls’ media – so that was a good way in for me, because I very much wanted to bring lots of Girls’ Comics influence to the table.
This story was for an all-female creators edition, and I love girls’ comics, so I wanted draw on my own influences.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: Have you had any other comics published? That you wrote or drew?
Olivia: I co-edited and published an anthology comic, Wilma, with the University of Dundee, which was a homage to British girls’ comics, and I wrote a story for it called “Bend it like Becket” which was drawn by Katie Quinn, a brilliant artist based in Edinburgh.
I drew a comic about the Legal Deposit system for the British Library and I’ve also self-published a 24 hour comic and a Fifth Harmony mini fanzine; you’ll have to find these at a local Scottish comic con because I don’t have an online store, unfortunately!
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: What other comics projects are you working on at the moment?
Olivia: I have an ongoing weekly webcomic called Sarararara: All American Girl, which is about a 1950s alien who is attending high school. It’s a loving parody of and homage to American teen comics like Archie and Patsy.
Other than that, I’m working on a couple of projects with friends, but they’re all in early stages. But you can keep up with my comics antics on my Instagram.
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: We know you’re also an artist, but how was the collaborative process as a writer with another artist?
Olivia: Well, because of my experience working on comics editing, I know that it’s easy to change writing, but relatively hard to change art. So I’m super easy going with artists; they know what they’re doing and they’re good at it, and once the script goes to them, other than making sure the right characters are drawn in each panel, I basically let go.
Because I draw a little I know how hard it is and I appreciate how much better these artists are than me at page layouts/communicating things. I think I requested a change to a character design, and that was it.
Everything else Abby did was phenomenal, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Once the script goes to the artist I basically become a cheerleader!
Scottish Centre for Comics Studies: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Olivia: Check out the story out and let me know what you think!
• Dumpy Little Robot features the portfolio, comics and illustrations by Abigail Ryder and Dave Bulmer