Faith Erin Hicks’s “Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy” is a romance that’s unashamed of being a romance and a comic that unabashedly indulges in artistic flourishes that are so very comic booky. The very approach to the comic reflects the central themes of the story and I love it.
Please excuse the image quality of this piece. They were needed for illustrative purposes, but I was only able to source them from a low-resolution preview.
Written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
New York Times bestseller Faith Erin Hicks is back with Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy, a young adult graphic novel romance about a hotheaded hockey player who asks for temper management lessons from the cool, calm boy in drama club.
It should have been a night of triumph for Alix’s hockey team. But her mean teammate mean-girl team Captain, Lindsay, goes after Alix with her cruelest dig yet, Alix loses what remains of her self-control and punches Lindsay out. Before she knows it, their coach is dragging Alix off Lindsay, and the invitation to the Canada National Women’s U-18 Team’s summer camp is on the line.
Alix is shaken. She needs to learn how to control this anger, and she is sure Ezra, the popular and poised theater kid from her grade, is the answer, so she asks for his help. But as they hang out and start getting closer, Alix learns that there is more to Ezra than the cool front he puts on. And that maybe this friendship could become something more…
I’ve long admired Faith Erin Hicks’s ability to take the internal and externalize it. This element is an aspect in all her work to varying degrees, but in “Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy” it becomes a major focus of the storytelling. Here, verbal barbs become literal barbs on the page, issuing from Lindsay’s mouth and striking Alix. It has a presence on the page that Hicks can modulate as it takes over and then pull back as it fades away.
This is introduced very early on with the inciting incident between Alix and Lindsay, and throughout the rest of the book it’s developed to explore more complex concepts. We see this already happening with the introduction of Ezra. He likewise has a confrontation with a bully, but he takes a calming breath and from that calm comes a barrier of lines around him which the barbs can’t penetrate. This allows a confrontation of verbal attacks and parries to be communicated without words—when Alix sees this confrontation, she doesn’t hear any words, but the power dynamics are still obvious to her. We see what she understands of the conversation.
Hicks is never afraid to use these devices. A character marching off angrily with a black cloud over their head is the sort of thing we’re used to seeing in comic strips, but it’s far less common in comic books. But Hicks embraces elements like these and uses them all the time. She doesn’t just draw a character shrugging, she’ll draw little lines around the shoulders that indicate whether it was a gentle shrug or a sharp shrug, because in the world of her stories, the difference matters. She’s not just interested in showing us what something looks like, she wants to show us what something feels like too.
It’s an interest that serves her well in “Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy,” because a lot of the story is wrapped up in people noticing or failing to notice others. Sometimes a character sees something, but they only see the surface of it. Other times, a character looks at something, and the language of the comic shifts, and suddenly we’re in the moment with the characters being observed—Hicks draws empathy and sympathy beautifully this way.
On a more personal level, I responded to this comic because Alix is so much like someone I knew in school. To see this girl who is taller than everyone around her, who can be strong and imposing, but also shy and small, I felt like I was seeing an old friend on the page. So often Alix seems to crawl inside of herself and shut down, and you see this character who is physically larger than everyone around her, sink lower in the frame, disappearing behind the panel boundaries.Continued below
And then there are moments when her size is used not to show power, but to show a fragility—like when she first talks to Ezra, and she’s standing in front of them, feeling really nervous, with her head awkwardly sticking out the top of the panel.
Alix is drawn with a bigger chin and jaw than Hicks usually draws on women, a detail which especially made her feel that much more real to me. It’s a touch that reminds me of the character’s physicality, even when only her head is in the panel. With Alix, a lot of what’s happening with her is very much on the surface.
Ezra is the opposite. He has a different visual language because there’s an Ezra he performs for others, who can’t be hurt, and another Ezra that’s private, only seen by those who know him best. The latter isn’t a version he shares very often—it’s more like those who know him best see it beneath the veneer of the untouchable Ezra. There’s a moment in the story when Ezra opens up to Alix, and Hicks moves away from drawing his face. Suddenly we’re looking at the back of his head, or only part of his face in the panel, or even just his hands. Yes, he’s opening up, but he’s vulnerable and uncomfortable, and so the panel composition becomes uncomfortable too. He doesn’t look at Alix in this moment, and instead the emphasis is on her looking at him and seeing him differently.
There’s another aspect of this moment that’s particularly interesting in the way Hicks uses the language of comics. Throughout the book we’ve seen her use different kinds of lines to create emotion. As I said before, it’s the kind of thing we’re used to seeing in comic strips, and so generally there’s a lightness to them. There are exceptions though. The barbs are used much more aggressively, creating moments of tension. But there is one moment in the book that uses these emotion and motion lines more than any other sequence—in this moment they almost completely take over the page, but there is nothing light about them. Instead, they transform a moment into almost pure emotion. The internal is expressed so strongly that it consumes the external.
Those little wiggly lines aren’t always fun. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking of them as a “cartoony” device, and in doing so we fail to see their full potential as a powerfully expressive narrative tool. Hicks leans into it and in so doing she created a sequence that’s genuinely harrowing.
And it’s a transformative tool. We are initially introduced to the barb-like lines as an expression of outward aggression, but the way they’re used evolves throughout the book. It starts being used to show passive aggression—an outward action that seems innocuous takes on a completely different mood. It acts as a way to turn up the volume on something that is otherwise silent and can even be used to create an emotional crescendo.
Hicks even uses the emotion of a scene to transform space. There’s a certain sequence, which I can’t talk about in detail without spoiling a portion of the book, but it involves a table. If you are concerned with literal reality, this table might annoy you, because the length of the table dramatically changes throughout the course of the sequence—but that’s precisely the point of the scene. The table shortens as emotional barriers between characters are taken down.
Shocking as it may seem, yes, a book titled “Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy” is driven by emotion, and it’s great to read a book that not only isn’t coy about that, but actively leans into it. The title, like the rest of the book, isn’t coy about what it is—the book is unapologetically a teen romance. And a book that’s proud of what it is, is the perfect vehicle to present Alix’s journey.