In the second installment, The Stone Heart, we are again with Kaidu and Rat, as they deepen their friendship amidst the political chaos that erupts around them. The two young people from very different backgrounds agree that adults’ actions and motivations are really messing up their city, so they are trying to help. There are some major emotional plot points that balance the funny and light-hearted scenes in the story.
Hicks was gracious enough to answer some questions I had about The Stone Heart.
GEEKMOM: Kaidu struggles with the legacy of the Dao, not just as conquerors of the city but the culture of his people that emphasize aggression. We “hear” him play an instrument with beauty, and then he’s embarrassed that the subject of the song is about a fight. He argues with his fighting instructor, “But why do we have to be warriors?” and complains to Rat, “Too bad being good at running, dodging, and falling isn’t important to the Great Dao Empire.” His father was a warrior but didn’t like it, and has been working hard to bring a peace council to the city–reaching out to old enemies of the Dao. But Kaidu didn’t grow up with his father to have learned that sentiment. How did he come about his gentle, questioning nature?
HICKS: It’s definitely the influence of his mother. Not to spoil too much, but we see more of her and her influence in book 3, The Divided Earth. I wanted Kai to be a character who grew up with an unconventional parent (his mother is a tribe leader, which is unusual in a patriarchal society), who impressed on him that if he wanted to take a different path in his life, if he didn’t want to follow the more warlike aspects of his culture, he was free to do so. I really wanted to write a story about a culture that traditionally leaned towards being warrior-based and valuing stereotypically masculine traits, but was now in flux, as different paths presented themselves for people in that society. The Nameless City itself is supposed to be a fairly equal place; women own their own businesses and ships, and that begins to influence Dao culture.
GM: And then the other father/son pair Erzi and the General. Without spoiling a huge plot point, my question is: How do you decide what to show and what to imply in your artwork? What do you think makes this scene have the most impact? Any inspiration from other graphic novels or movies when depicting violence?
HICKS: This comic is intended for younger readers, and as someone who was very sensitive to visual depictions of violence as a child (I still am, actually!), I wanted to be respectful of children who might have those sensitivities, so I decided a certain moment of violence needed to be implied, not shown. But somehow not showing that violence can actually make it all the more upsetting! However, it was important to me to show the real consequence of violence, both on the person being victimized and also the person inflicting the violence. I enjoy action stories (Die Hard is one of my favorite movies), but I find often violence isn’t presented in a way that’s thoughtful. Often in movies buildings blow up without consequence, characters will smash through bystanders without anyone getting hurt, Pokemon will battle each other nearly to the death. The violence is usually presented in a way that’s very unreal. Again, I enjoy action movies and television, but I think it’s also important to be thoughtful about how we (meaning myself and my fellow creators) approach and depict violence. As for other depictions of violence, one of the most interesting comics I’m reading right now is a manga called Vinland Saga. It’s a very, very violent comic, and it’s difficult to read at times. But it’s also a personal depiction of the horrific consequences of the cycle of vengeance, and one man’s journey towards establishing a peaceful home for other survivors of violence.
GM: Mura’s character is fleshed out quite a bit more in this book with her interactions early on with the monks, meeting Erzi, and taking total control of the situation in the second half of the story. She’s not a “good” character but well-rounded. What was the creative process of developing Mura?
HICKS: One of the things I wanted to do with The Nameless City was to take certain tropes I enjoyed and put my own twist on them. Mura definitely came out of my fondness for the Badass Female Bodyguard trope, which is a female character in service to a male villain who is the most competent member of that villain’s entourage (there was a recent example of this trope in John Wick 2. Another example would be Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy). And in many cases, she’s a character who will die in a fight with the story’s hero late in the story, which is always a bummer. I wanted to know more about this kind of character. What was she thinking about as she did what she did? Were there things that she wanted, beyond serving the male villain? What if she was actually the force behind the character she was supposedly in service to? We don’t yet know what Mura wants, or what her ultimate end goal is, but she has plenty to do in book 3, and I hope people enjoy her journey. I know it’s bad form for an author to have a favorite character, but I really loved writing her.
GM: Can you give a little teaser about the final installment of the story?
HICKS: It has a 20 page fight scene! I might die in the midst of drawing it, but it’s gonna happen. I’ve always wanted to draw a comic with a giant fight scene, and now I finally have my chance!