The Nameless City is the latest graphic novel from one of my family’s favorite author/illustrators, Faith Erin Hicks. I highly recommend this tale set in an ancient world with contemporary themes and diverse characters. There are both great action sequences and thoughtful dialogue. Hicks was kind enough to answer some questions my son and I had about her cool new series.
GEEKMOM: First off, I left The Nameless City around my house while I had guests and a few other people read it too. We had some good discussions, but one debate happened to be: where is it?! I assumed the location was in China, but two others said it must be a fictional Asian city because the geography didn’t match anything they knew. So… is The Nameless City based on a real location or did you make it up?
FAITH ERIN HICKS: A little bit of both. The world The Nameless City is set in is very much grounded in my research into 13th-century China. However, it isn’t China. The languages are different, the history of the people of this world is different, technology has developed differently. It is a fictional world, but grounded in a specific historical period. The historical influence came around coincidentally: years ago I was doing early worldbuilding art on what would eventually become The Nameless City, and also happened to be reading several nonfiction books about the Yuan Dynasty. My “for fun” research started influencing my early development art for that old, proto-Nameless City, so I decided to make the world more emphatically influenced by Chinese culture. I did a lot of research into clothing and architecture, and hopefully I’ve portrayed the world as authentically as possible.
GM: What was the impetus for this book, the world and culture? It is a strong departure from your other worlds and character cultures.
FAITH: Mostly I wanted a new challenge. Until this point, with the exception of the video game comic I drew (The Last of Us: American Dreams), my comics have been set in contemporary times, and tended to be stories with high school settings. I wanted to challenge myself artistically, and decided the best way to do that was to draw lots of detailed historical Chinese architecture and tiled roofs. I may have regretted that decision a bit over the past two years as I drew both Nameless City 1 and 2. Those roofs are tricky to draw.
GM: There are strong parallels between Erzi/Mura vs. Kaidu/Rat relationships. What are your thoughts on how they are similar, how they are different, and how those relationships will develop over the course of the series?
FAITH:I don’t want to give too much away, but there are definitely parallels between those two relationships. The main difference is that Erzi on many levels sees himself as a savior. He’s the chosen one, someone who will bridge the gap between his people and the people native to the Nameless City. Mura is his proof of that; he saved her off the City streets, gave her a home and a purpose. In contrast, Kai has a lot of privilege and is a little ignorant when he first meets Rat, but he doesn’t see himself as a savior, and is willing to listen to her and her concerns about the Dao rule of the City. I don’t want to comment too much on how either of these relationships will develop over the course of the trilogy (spoilers!!), but they are very important to the story, and develop in ways that are more complicated than they initially seem.
GM: In Friends With Boys, the mother is absent but a huge influence on the characters. In The Nameless City, Kaidu’s mother is also absent but obviously still an influence (he views strong women in leadership positively, for example.) In many growing up tales, loss of the mother is the beginning of the story; did you consciously choose that for your characters? Will Kaidu’s mother, especially in her strong leader role, come into the series?
FAITH: Kai’s mom is an important character, and I’m happy to say she’ll have an important role later in the series. I can’t wait for her to show up; she is the giant badass lady of my dreams. For Kai, at least initially, I wanted to emphasize his relationship with his father early on in the story. One of the themes of the trilogy is the evolution of the Dao’s patriarchal warrior culture into something new and perhaps more democratic, and I wanted to show that evolution through the relationship of these two male characters (Kai and his dad). They are men who have benefited from that culture, but they also on some level realize its problems and aren’t comfortable with it. So they’re working to change it, Kai’s dad through his political influence, Kai through his relationship with Rat. But, yes, there will be moms (both literal and surrogate) later in the story, and I’m very excited for readers to meet them!
GM: My son is an artist and was very impressed with the background details. He would like to know how long it took you to create such intricate work? Also, what media do you use?
FAITH: Thanks very much to your son! Whew, the backgrounds are tough. I work really long hours trying to get them right. Most days I try and pencil two pages a day, and that could take me up to 12 hours, depending on the complexity of the page. I pencil my pages digitally on a Cintiq, then print them out on Bristol paper and then ink the pages by hand with a watercolor brush. The process is time-consuming, but I like the result.
GM: Can you say how many books you plan for the world of The Nameless City? Any little details of what will be coming up plot-wise? Character development?
FAITH: The Nameless City is a trilogy, so there is a definite 3-book arc to it, with a planned ending in mind. Hm, what can I say that isn’t too much of a spoiler? Rat and Kai’s relationship will develop a lot over the course of the three books, villains will appear and do horrible things, I’ll get to draw complicated fight scenes and lots more running and jumping. It’s going to be a ride! Hopefully readers will enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed drawing it.
GM: Thanks again, Faith! Can’t wait for the next installment of The Nameless City.