Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name

A comic by Tessa Stone

Most of the time, dead comics are just a project that didn’t work out. Collaborators part ways, inspiration evaporates, mental health ebbs and flows, and jobs place new demands on artists’ time. Generally people don’t get paid to put their webcomic online for us to read, so while it can be disappointing when our fave stops updating, hey, that’s life. But some comics die a death that stands as a cautionary tale – or a horror story – and not all readers are as laid-back about the comics they read as I am.

I’ll admit it: I was never that into Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. Maybe I just wasn’t in the target audience (yaoi shippers, presumably) or maybe I’d read too many stories in the format of “incompetent freelancer has misadventures” to find the basic premise interesting. Or maybe I was just turned off by the gender essentialist title! Either way, I wasn’t around for its end, and actually only recently made the connection that it was created by the same person who now does Not Drunk Enough (a vastly better work, in my humble opinion).

There are four entire white guys in this panel.
There are four three entire white guys in this panel.

HINABN follows Hanna Cross, a skinny white guy paranormal investigator with more enthusiasm than skill or common sense, and the ragtag band of misfit skinny white guys he accumulates while repeatedly fucking up jobs. (EDIT: an astute reader pointed out that Zombie, when he was alive, seemed to actually be Asian. My mistake!) Seriously, if you’re not into tepid sexual tension between a gaggle of skinny white guys I can’t imagine what appeal this comic could hold for you, because the plot and cast aren’t that original or interesting. The art is evocative and kinetic, and the panel layouts are something to admire, but the story itself is bland as a mayonaise sandwich, frankly a waste of Stone’s talents.

This is a cool transformation but like really? The only brown girl?
This is a cool transformation but like really? The only brown girl?

There are a couple of women in the cast, but they lack as much luster as everyone else: Adelaide, a treacherous and powerful vampire slash femme fatale, and Toni, who fulfills the comic’s diversity quota, and, predictably, is a werewolf. Seriously what is with this werewolves=brown people trope.

If I had written this, I would probably want to move on to a new project too.
If I had written this, I would probably want to move on to a new project too.

I don’t know why Stone stopped making Hanna, but I like to think she realized the countless beginner’s mistakes she made and knew that she could do better. We’re all embarassed by our early works, and it’s often a better move to let them die and move on to something better, learning from our mistakes instead of continuing a work that’s mired in them.

People love to ship unpleasant dudes who hate each other.
People love to ship unpleasant dudes who hate each other.

But craft mistakes can often be easier to see than choices that have social repercussions. Like I said, the people who loved this comic were by and large yaoi fans, and there are large elements of that subculture that, well… they go in hard. They get rabid about their ships, and will defend them unto death, so woe betide anyone who denies them – anyone remember the johndave-johnkat-davekat ship wars of 2013? And when Stone quit, well, that just wasn’t acceptable. Where were the updates? they demanded. Where was Tessa? Was she in the hospital? Was she in jail? There were no other acceptable reasons, in their minds, as to why the comic would just stop. Answers were demanded. Theories and rumors were spread in a cringe-inducing fashion, with little regard for the author’s privacy. Hardcore fans often develop feelings of extreme entitlement to the media they enjoy, and in this case that manifested in a very ugly way.

So what’s the moral of this story? “Don’t court yaoi fans if you don’t want drama down the line”? May… maybe? “Don’t use your best artwork on your first comic because it’ll get popular before you decide to move onto something better”? I honestly don’t know. “Make sure you tell your fans you’re quitting so they don’t start a rumor mill”? No, I doubt that would have helped to be honest, and I don’t think creators have that sort of obligation to their readers.

So maybe there isn’t a clear moral. Sometimes nothing you can do will prevent awful fandoms from being awful – that’s like stopping a hurricane from ravaging a coastline, or an unknowable relentless bloodthirsty monster from attacking your campsite in the woods.

Don't be like Hanna.
Don’t be like Hanna.

Or maybe the moral isn’t for creators at all; it’s for readers, and it’s simple: don’t be a dick. It’s just a comic. Relax a little. Write some fanfiction or something. Whatever your fave is now, there will be another one in time, so please don’t harass creators for not loving their labors of love anymore – in a few years you will feel like the asshole you are.

Final verdict: Bland and cliche, this comic never had that much to recommend it. But if you’re really into shipping dudes for the BL of it, you might enjoy perusing the archived pages.

6 comments on “Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name

  1. As a one-time HINABN fan who just poked through the archives again, I appreciate hearing your thoughts about the comic. And I agree- it’s not that good. I missed HINABN a bit, though I didn’t remember the comic much. I mostly felt that it died too soon- maybe tellingly that it “could have been good”. When I was 14 and 15 I admired its vibrant style and awkward characters. But it didn’t win me back. What felt funny and energetic at 14 simply fell flat… The jokes are not funny and the pathos minimal.
    (One thing is that Tessa Stone couldn’t figure out portraying emotions- everyone reacts bodily to any little thing. Much flailing and use of sound effects like “HNNGH”. I attributed this, before, to character quirk and humor. But the humor doesn’t quite work, characters get this treatment mostly irrespective of temperament, and it brings down dramatic moments. There’s an issue of emotional scale here, where the small setbacks and dramatic reveals get the same wacky overacted reactions. )
    Yeah, I agree with you HINABN is underwhelming. Nice visuals, boring story.
    After all these years, I can’t be sure what it meant to me, but I don’t think this comic got popular on its merits. In fact a lot of my HINABN experiences occurred outside of the comic, in fandom and following Tessa Stone’s online presence. I watched Tessa Stone on Deviantart, where she posted, alongside new HINABN pages, portraits and bios of characters who hadn’t appeared. I enjoyed these teasers, and the fandom reacted to them too. HINABN fic often included these Deviantart gleanings. I think it was a better way to build hype and a fanbase than to tell a story. And we never actually met some of the characters Tessa posted. This may explain why the hype feels disproportionate to the content, maybe why people got so damn bitter and disappointed. We never did get to see it go anywhere. And at least for me, its premature death made my memories sweeter. Reading it again, all at once, just made me think “That’s it?”

    1. It’s super interesting to hear your perspective, and I think your analysis is exactly right! Thanks for sharing both. Do you read Not Drunk Enough, Tessa Stone’s latest work? It seems like she’s learned a lot, both in regards to my criticisms of HINABN and yours. The emotional pacing of the latest page alone puts those old scenes you’re talking about to shame, in my opinion.

      1. Oh, you’re welcome! That’s nice to hear.
        I haven’t looked at it that much but I might give it a try. It’ll be interesting to see what direction she’s gone in,

  2. HINABN was one of my favorite webcomics back in the day and one of the first non-manga-inspired webcomics I´ve read in general. Tessa Stones style influenced me big time and I was blown away, from a page layout that was just different from what I knew.
    Looking back I still think that the story was, most of the time, nicely told and that it had some pretty awesome parts.
    I can forgive a boring story, if the characters are cool and I can get behind a decent narrative. I have to admit though, that if HINABN would have come out years later, I probably would have skipped it, because the cast is not diverse enough in my opinion. I still enjoy that every character looks different, but you´re right: A bunch of skinny white dudes and pretty cliché story.

    I´m pretty happy that just a few years after we have lots of webcomics that deal with more complicated issues and diverse casts and I´m also happy that Tessa is creating comics again (even though I haven´t read Not Drunk Enough yet).
    Okay, I´m not completely sure where I was going with that, but awesome review and nice change of perspective from the creator to the fans.

  3. I pretty recently discovered your site (though your paranatural review, as thats one of my all time favorite comics) and Ive really been enjoying your insight on things, and I’m definitely making a note to check out some of these comics in the future.

    Onto HINABN…. Man. I loved this comic when I was 14/15. So much. I remember going on about how I was sad it was dead to my English teacher (….I didn’t have a lot of friends in High school) and she suggested that maybe I could always try to make my own ending to it. Well, teach, I will in a way, except it’ll be a way better comic that isn’t so bland, ha. Like even my OCs when I was ten were more diverse and I was not exactly a very social conscious ten year old. (I had a trans girl OC even, tho my… language with her was not great,ugh).

    But yeah, looking back–I agree. I don’t remember much other the art and what COULD have been–mostly with the mysterious that never really got much development. The art is great and Ill definitely keep it as an inspiration–im a sucker for artists who really play around with panel layout–, but the writing? God, I can’t even remember half the characters names. And me being 14 was only 4 years ago, so it ain’t because of time.

    Anyways, yeah, I think a lot of it”s popularity came from the whole shipping thing (which I never cared for–there wasn’t enough character for me TO care) and what it could have been if it had actual time to… get off the ground. And Maybe have more non white characters. But it was definitely bogged down by cliche writing, characters, and plot.

    Anyways! Great review, Im really glad I found your site.

  4. From the comments on this page, it seems that most people (me included), fell in love with “Hanna Is Not A Boy’s Name” at around 14/15-years-old. I think HISNABN appealed to me, and others, at that age, because the comic is about akward individuals who have no place in “regular society.” This is a sentament that strongly resonates with young teens, and would attract that age group.

    While a lover of the comic and a slash shipper, I never realized that shipping could become so bilegerant. It was sad when I found the comic wasn’t finished, but it was easy for me to let go.

    Also, in regards to people finding the quality lacking, Tessa herself mentioned not being invested in the story. HISNABN was an opportunity to test her “visual” comic making skills.I personally still like the characters when I look back. I’ve not read the comics in a while, but the characters have evolved a lot after the comic’s end.

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