The final installment in Faith Erin Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy, The Divided Earth, is here and it brings the series to a thrilling close. To celebrate its release, Bookish sat down with Hicks to chat about the challenges of creating this series, the character that surprised her most, and the important thematic role of choice in The Divided Earth. Read on for more behind-the-scenes insight from Hicks!
Bookish: You’ve said this trilogy is your favorite project that you’ve done. Why has this series earned such a special place in your heart?
Faith Erin Hicks: The Nameless City has been with me for a very long time; I found drawings of early versions of the characters in sketchbooks going back a decade. I haven’t had that experience with a work before, that it was something brewing in my mind for so long. This was also my first fantasy trilogy, which was very challenging. The experience of building a world and its characters from the ground up was very different from telling a story set in contemporary times. I just found myself immersed in the world of the Nameless City in a way I hadn’t been with previous projects.
Bookish: In the author’s note in book two, you mention that this is the first trilogy you’ve written and drawn on your own. How does it feel to come to the end of it?
FEH: It feels like I ran a non-stop marathon for three years! Writing and drawing three graphic novels totaling 700-plus pages in only three years was a huge undertaking, and while I enjoyed this trilogy, I’m a little glad to be moving on to less demanding projects.
Bookish: As you mentioned, your earliest sketches for this series date back to 2007. What’s the biggest change from the original concept to the final product? What surprised you most?
FEH: The biggest change was probably Mura. Originally she was just going to be support for Erzi’s villainy, but she really came into her own, and I think I like her character arc best of all. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole career to create a female villain like her, and seeing her kind of burst out of the story the way she did was incredibly satisfying.
Bookish: There’s a strong parallel drawn in this book between Rat and Mura, and there also seems to be one between Rat and Kai’s relationship and Mura and Erzi’s. Do you view these two relationships as two sides of the same coin?
FEH: Yes, absolutely. Both Kai and Erzi have strong moral sides to their character; they want what’s best for the City. Unfortunately Erzi thinks he knows what’s best, without consulting the people who actually would be forced to live under his rule. In contrast, Kai is more willing to listen and learn and take into account his own privilege. Erzi listens in the wrong way, choosing to hear only what supports his worldview. He listens to what Mura wants, but is so desperate for control that he leads his empire to war. Kai listens to Rat, but also to the monks and to his father’s perspective, and that leads him towards concluding that no one should die over control of the City. Even if it means Kai will lose the city he considers his home, he’s willing to do it if it leads to peace for everyone else.
Bookish: You’ve expressed relating strongly to Rat and loving Mura. The two have an impressive and lengthy fight scene in this book. What was the experience of writing and drawing that like?
FEH: I’d never drawn a fight scene like that before, and it was both incredibly difficult but also really really fun. One of my great artistic heroes is Hiromu Arakawa, the woman who wrote and drew Fullmetal Alchemist. She’s got an incredible grasp of fight scenes, how to make them interesting and dynamic, how to give them great emotional stakes. Fight scenes, no matter how well drawn they are, can become boring if there isn’t a good reason why the characters are fighting. That sequence between Rat and Mura was probably the most planned sequence in the entire trilogy; I think I spent a week mapping out how the fight would go. But once I had it planned out, both the action and the emotional beats, it was super fun to draw. I love dramatic stuff!
Bookish: This final book focuses a lot on the importance of choice: There’s a choice between wielding napatha as a weapon or a tool, the Named must make a choice to fight or stay out of the conflict, and Rat makes a choice to start letting go of the anger inside of her. What drew you to this theme?
FEH: I always liked the idea of choices being the ultimate power, even if the person making a choice didn’t have a lot of agency outside of their own body. I remember what it was like to be a teenager and to feel like I had so little control over my life, and how I fought to make choices for myself and give myself even a small sliver of agency. As an adult I have more choices, and sometimes I feel weighed down by this idea of what is the right, moral choice. As a fiction writer I’m fascinated by how characters make choices in stories: Are the choices just the author driving the story forward, or does this character have a deep seated, logical reason for doing what they do? I think about choice a lot!
Bookish: The Nameless City is inspired by 13th century China, but the theme of certain individuals who try to claim ownership of a country and dictate who does and doesn’t belong also reflects the modern world. Was this something you were thinking about when writing?
EH: As a Canadian, I live in a multicultural society and I’m fascinated by how such societies work. The city I live in (Vancouver), is built on immigration, full of people from many different cultures living side by side. I think that’s something that’s an incredible strength of Canadian society, the ability to be exposed to different kinds of people, languages, and religions. But it doesn’t necessarily mean our society is highly tolerant. Bigotry and xenophobia are constants in any human society, and people often ask the highly charged questions: “What is a true Canadian? Is there such a thing?” I think the multicultural aspect of Canada is one of its greatest and most unique strengths, and I hope we as a country will continue to explore this aspect of our culture.
Bookish: What do you hope readers take away from this finale?
FEH: I hope they think about empathy for others around them. I hope they think about how they might get involved in their society, maybe even affect some change in their communities. I also hope they enjoy the fight scenes that I drew! I worked really hard on them.
Bookish: Would you ever considering returning to this world to tell more stories in it?
FEH: I love the characters and the world, but to be honest I’m a little burned out on drawing it! Maybe in a few years I’d like to explore more stories in the Nameless City world, but for right now I’d like to avoid drawing tiled rooftops.
Bookish: This series is being adapted into a tv series (with each book getting a four-episode arc). What is one thing you hope to see expanded or explored more in the adaptation? What is one thing you hope that isn’t changed at all?
FEH: I’d love to see more day-to-day stories in the City, just stuff about the characters and their daily lives. I didn’t have much time for that in the comic, and I’d like to see more of it. I hope nothing about Mura’s arc gets changed, I really love her story.
Faith Erin Hicks is a Canadian writer and artist. She worked in the animation industry for several years before transitioning into writing and drawing comics full time in 2008. She started making comics “for fun” and putting them on the web when she was in college. Her first published work was Zombies Calling (SLG Publishing) in 2007. Since then, she has published a number of other graphic novels. She won an Eisner Award in 2014 for The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Faith currently lives in Vancouver, BC with her partner, Tim, and their helpful cat.