Get ready to spend a lot more time in The Nameless City.
Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novel trilogy will soon be coming to the small screen, courtesy of Frederator, EW can exclusively reveal.
The three books will be split into 12 half-hour episodes, with each graphic novel being translated into four episodes each, the first four of which will be released in the fall of 2018.
“It’s exciting and a little scary. It’s my first time having a ‘Hollywood deal.'” Hicks told EW about the deal. “I always envisioned The Nameless City as a comic. It was always supposed to be a comic and it was super cool when Frederator and Recursion approached me about partnering to make this thing happen. It’s a nice bonus.”
The second book in the series, titled The Stone Heart, hits bookstores April 4 and continues the story of teens Kai and Rat as they work together to prevent war and help the nameless city they both call home.
“Frederator Studios’ cartoon philosophy for nearly twenty years is to support the vision of creators with distinctive points of views,” said Vice President of Development at Frederator Studios Eric Homan. “Faith’s wonderful storytelling is just one of the reasons we’re fortunate to be part of this project. We’re eager to follow her creative lead on The Nameless City.”
With Kai and Rat’s story about to hit the next chapter (both on screen and on the page), EW spoke to the Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist about her new book, her influences, and whether peace really is possible in The Nameless City.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are you most excited about in terms of people reading The Stone Heart?
FAITH ERIN HICKS: It’s always such a cool experience having people read and hopefully enjoy your work. I’m really looking forward to, hopefully, the characters resonating with people. I really like these characters. Previous to this series I’ve mostly done stand alone graphic novels. But with Nameless City it was just such a cool thing to be able to do a trilogy and really spend more time with these characters and their world and develop that. This is really nerdy, but it’s always fun when fans have shipping opinions they really want to see together. There really isn’t any romance in the main story but I’m always curious about that stuff. “What two characters would you pair up?” [Laughs]
What pairings have fans asked you about?
My mom, who is awesome and reads all my comics, read the second volume and I was with her when she reading it. In the middle of reading The Stone Heart, she looks up at me and she says, “When Rat and Kai grow up, are they going to fall in love and get married?” [Laughs] I was like, “Well, you’ll have to read Book 3 and see!” But I died laughing at that. It was super cool that she liked these characters enough to ship them.
One of the things that is interesting about The Nameless City and The Stone Heart is that everyone’s actions have a justifiable point of view. How do you approach that kind of storytelling?
Absolutely. It’s important for characters to have specific human reasons for doing what they do. Even villains. The best advice my editor on the project ever gave me is, “Every character in the story thinks that they’re the main character.” So I try and make their arc be satisfying. So the villain in The Stone Heart, Erzi, has very specific, very human motivations. He seems himself as a savior figure, someone who could potentially save the city. And also he’s been raised with this idea of what his future is. And all of a sudden that future is threatened and he lashes out as a result. That’s a very human result. I really try and instill this in all my characters.
In the first book, Arik is a lot nicer and more reasonable than I expected someone called the “General of Blades” to be. Is that how you pictured him to begin with? Or did that change?
It did actually change a bit. But in a very early draft, he was actually even more sympathetic and was immediately enthusiastic about this idea of creating a council of nations to oversee the city. So he was even more of a forward-thinking person. But I decided it would be a more interesting arc for his character if he started from a more negative beginning point and slowly evolved as the book went on.
One theme I really wanted to work with in the book is this idea that people can change, especially society can push towards change if enough people try. If enough people commit themselves to it. Especially with this empire that Kai is a part of. It’s a very militaristic empire and it has very set rules, but I also wanted to show it as an empire that was potentially evolving and evolving into something that is a more sympathetic or democratic rulership. My father is a veteran and he actually ended up getting drafted and sent to war when he was 18 years old, which is crazy. Growing up with a father who’s had that experience, I feel like I kind of put my feelings about cultures that are intrinsically war-like and hopefully changing and evolving for the better into this series. That sounds really complicated for a kids book, but I feel like kids are smart and deserve challenging quality in literature.
Did you have to do any historical research?
I did a ton of research, which is really fun. Even though The Nameless City is fantasy, the setting is very much based on 13th century China. So I read a bunch of biographies about Kublai Khan, who is the founder of that dynasty. I read a really good book about the Silk Road that was a human’s point of view, and it followed all these people as they were making their way down the Silk Road and interacting with other different kinds of people. That was really fascinating to me. I wanted to hopefully bring all that historical research into this fantasy world that I’d created. It’s still fantasy but hopefully make it something that is diverse and relatable to many readers.
Did you ever play with have a supernatural element in the trilogy?
I did. In early versions of the story I was interested in the idea of there being a magical element to the city, mostly based on the fact that it was this ancient structure and there was magic in the ground that had been percolating there for years and years. However, working in the graphic novel format can be a little limiting when you’re trying to world build because it’s so time-consuming and takes up so many pages. The more I worked on the magical element, the more the characters kind of got pushed to the side. So I decided fairly early on that I would rather focus on the characters in this world, rather than focusing on building a magical system for them to experiment with.
Each nation in your world has a justifiable reason not to co-operate with each other. Is peace possible?
The Nameless City is definitely fiction and I approach it with a fairly hopeful point of view that these nations will hopefully come together and will create a better future for the city. Because the way I tried to portray the city in this particular culture of conquest and this cycle of invasion that this city has to deal with, is that it’s not terribly effective and it just ends up creating problems for everyone. There’s a part of me that’s like, “Surely people will just come together in the end and create a system that works for a majority of the people.”
What are some of your inspirations in terms of the storytelling and art of this series?
I have a bunch. There are definitely three main ones. These are basically my favorite stories that other people have created. I’m a huge nerdy fan of Bone by Jeff Smith. It’s just a wonderful fantasy adventure about these little creatures and this little world that they live in. That was one of the first comics that I read as an adult and it was just very influential. Another influence is a manga series, Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. It’s so cool that this awesome, badass series that has amazing fight scenes and loveable characters that you root for is written and drawn by a woman. And of course, there’s Avatar: The Last Airbender by Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino and all of the Avatar crew that created that series over the years, was a huge influence as well. That series definitely caused me to be more interested in Chinese history and start to actually study this country and this time particular period.
What are you reading right now?
Because I’m going on a book tour next week and meeting up with G. Willow Wilson I’ve been reading up on my Ms. Marvel trades and they’re amazing. I’m actually not a big superhero reader, but I really love that comic. A series that I’m following right now that I really like is Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura. She’s awesome and it’s very sweet and girl in this wonderful way. It’s about a group of women who live in a rental house and have weird, wacky adventures and are scared of men. [Laughs] It’s like my teen adolescence all over again. I’ve been enjoying the heck out of those.
The Stone Heart hits bookshelves April 4. Preorder it here.