A common piece of advice creative types hear is “work every day.” That’s not always possible for everyone for various reasons, but generally pushing yourself to practice your craft as much as possible is indeed good advice, and some artists who take that philosophy to heart manage to be incredibly prolific. What the people giving that advice don’t always tell you is that most of that “work” is actually going to be garbage not fit to see the light of day, and that some of the things you work on won’t (and shouldn’t) ever be finished. And that’s okay.
Faith Erin Hicks is one of those very prolific artists, appearing on the scene (in my memory at least) in like 2001 with Demonology 101, a webcomic that made a huge impact on Teenage Wisp and helped me begin to understand the potential of the medium. But D101 deserves its own review, so I won’t get ahead of myself. This review is for the comic that Hicks started after D101’s completion: Ice.
Ice is set in a future England where environmental catastrophe has triggered a new ice age. At the same time, fossil fuels have run out, resulting in an energy crisis that leaves the poor out in the cold. Amidst it all, the monarchy of England has returned to power, accentuating the vast inequality between the cozy nobility and the freezing, starving commoners. It’s an interesting setup, and a huge change of pace for Hicks from the YA-fantasy tone of her last comic, so I was excited to see what she would do with the setting and the new hero, Sarah “Hunter” L’Engle.
Looking back, I’m kind of embarassed that I was so into a comic where the protagonist is a white girl with dreadlocks, but it did have a certain amount of charm, and a decent hook: when scrap salvager Hunter comes into possession of a strange device, she gives it to her tinker boyfriend Cirr to figure out what it does and thinks no more of it. But when goons hired by the prince come knocking on their door – and Cirr’s head – looking for the thing, Hunter gets pulled into a terrifying chase for her life, the life of the man she loves, and maybe the fate of all England.
It sounds cool, but it’s actually mostly just stressful. Hicks never managed to get the tone right: the tension is upsetting, not riveting; the action is brutal, not exciting; and the dystopia is depressing, not captivating. Hicks even added a reveal that Hunter was raped by police years ago, and I have no idea why!! It’s gross and upsetting to read, and it adds nothing to the story except to make the world seem even more utterly crapsack. If I’m realistic, Hicks shoehorned in the rape plotline as a backwards, failed attempt to give Hunter some character development. (Writers: don’t do this?) But if I’m generous, Hicks might have been trying to reinforce the class-war aspect of the story, setting the nobles and their cops up as the bad guys. But there’s frankly no need – the cops have already been seen harassing homeless people in the background, and the main antagonists are thugs in the prince’s employ, so the moral balance of the setting’s class disparity is already clear.
Except, perhaps, to Hicks herself, who seems to continually want to complicate the issue in ways that make no sense. When rioting breaks out at the prince’s parade through the impoverished Square, it’s not cops attacking commoners, or even commoners throwing rocks at the procession: it’s poor folks fighting each other, for no reason. And when we finally meet the Queen, Black Mary, she’s made out to be a good and kind person, who only wants what’s best for her people and has been putting all her resources into solving the energy crisis. I get that not everyone tries to see a radical class analysis in the things they read, but this setting literally portrays brutal oppression and vast wealth disparities and then turns around with a bullshit “Maybe… when you think about it… both sides are to blame…” message. It’s infuriating.
So as excited as I was when Ice started, I can’t say I was sad to see it die. Nor was I surprised; when you read webcomics for as long as I have, you start to see the signs. Hicks stopped dedicating as much time to the comic around chapter 10, forgoing coloring the pages. The updates started slowing down soon after, until there would be months between new pages. The last page went up in 2010, and Ice breathed its last.
Hicks moved on, as I understand it, to mostly print comics, and has become a fairly successful published artist. And that’s great! Ice was a mediocre story, marred indellibly by poor writing choices. Sometimes it’s really better to just cut the cord. Not all your work has to be good, because the bad stuff is still stuff you learn from. I haven’t had a chance to read her print work, but I’d wager Hicks is a better comicker now, thanks to the mistakes she made during Ice.
But if she was a little embarassed by it, I wouldn’t blame her.
Final verdict: Dystopian scifi fans beware: this might be too depressing even for you. But if you’re a glutton for punishment, poorly-handled sexual assault storylines, and/or bad class analysis, you might find something to enjoy. Just don’t read it at work, there’s boobs.