“Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” is a new graphic novel from First Second Books that perfectly captures the hijinks and insanity of classic teen movies while maintaining a distinctly modern flavor. We talked to creators Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks about their inspirations for this project, their collaborative process, and the process of capturing a teenage world that’s simultaneously exaggerated and immediately identifiable.
MTV Geek: How did you come to work on this project together?
Prudence Shen: As I have a rotten sense of humor I’ll keep telling people the same thing — it was an arranged marriage that turned out really well! We didn’t know one another prior to the beginning of this project, but through the magic of the internet, it all came together, and quite nicely, we think.
Faith Erin Hicks: We were complete strangers! I was finishing up my graphic novel Friends With Boys (published by First Second in 2012) and needed a new project to work on. My editor Calista gave me a prose novel called Voted Most Likely that she wanted to adapt for comics. I read it and liked it and most importantly, thought it would make a fun comic. And that prose novel eventually became Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.
Geek: So, Prudence- if this story was originally written as prose, how did you make the decision to convert it to a graphic novel?
Shen: The original novel was titled Voted Most Likely and it was 200+ pages of prose, I think. First Second (our publishers) actually bought the book with the idea to convert it to a graphic novel. It was an initially harrowing decision (will they get the characters? how can you transform a book that gets attempts to get into so much nuance into a graphic novel? will the jokes translate?), but one that smoothed out a lot more once I got a glimpse of Faith’s amazing artwork. I think we’re fortunate in that we have very similar senses of humor, and they gelled very well on the page.
Geek: What was your collaborative process while working on this? Were you bouncing ideas back and forth a lot, or was Faith adapting large sections of the script, then sending it for approval?
Shen: As the novel was already completed by the time Faith was brought on board, she basically already knew the plot and the progression, and moved forward with an adaptation. I think that contained a few scenes that had to go back and forth a bit, because certain things that work in prose just aren’t workable in comic format, and length and complexity of plot is a series issue. Once we nailed down a script we liked, then Faith was hurled to the wolves and her drawing table. I got to watch the rest of the process through the magic of Twitter, and her increasingly deranged commentary on how many FREAKING ROBOTS WERE THERE IN THIS BOOK? (Sorry, Faith.)
Hicks: We worked separately for the most part. I took the original prose novel and made an outline of the original story that I felt would adapt well to comics, Prudence approved that and then I moved on to script and thumbnails. Prudence saw pretty much every step I took in adapting her novel, but we didn’t directly collaborate. We did work together on one of the later scenes at the Robot Rumble, which is very different from the original scene in the novel. I wanted to change the scene to make it a little more satisfying, story-wise, so I came up with a new scene and Pru and I wrote it together.
Geek: So Faith, how much freedom did you have with the character designs and visual interpretations?
Hicks: Pretty much all the freedom. Prudence looked over my original character designs for the four main characters, Charlie, Nate, Joanna and Holly, and gave me notes on them, but from then on the visual look was left up to me. Which was great, I’m really glad she trusted me with that.
Geek: And Prudence, how did it feel to see your work interpreted visually like this?
Shen: It was a really fantastic insight into what resonated with a reader to see the prose transformed into images. I didn’t have particularly vivid images for the character designs as I was working on the novel – each of the characters was more a set of personalities and impressions versus specific hair, faces, and clothing – and watching Faith trace them out through curly hair and a smattering of freckles, slumped and wide shoulders, was absolutely wonderful. Also I enjoyed how much she enjoyed making the cheerleaders terrifying. I don’t know that I ended up viewing anything differently, but there were moments where I wanted to go back and double underline elements of the characters to say, “But what about this? Wasn’t this hugely important? I thought it was hugely important!” But the reality of any story you tell is that once you tell it to someone else, the received version will necessarily be different than the intended version. Everybody brings their own influences and biases to a reading, and after the initial panic, it’s more than anything else interesting to see what people get out of your work.
Geek: Faith, you have a range of visual approaches and styles – a sparser, rounded method of cartooning for your Adventures Of Superhero Girl comic, the more angular, detailed, and highlighted/shaded approach you used for this book. How did you determine your approach to this project?
Hicks: Yay, thank you for noticing! I mean, everything I draw looks like I drew it, I’m not such an amazing artist that I can draw every comic with a different look, but think about the content and intent of my comics a lot, and try to alter my drawing style based on that. So NCPGW, a comic about and for teenagers looks different from Bigfoot Boy, a comic I drew that’s for children, and they both look different from The Last of Us: American Dreams, which is a prequel to the Playstation 3 video game. A comic like The Last of Us that’s dark and grim will of course look different from NCPGW, which has a lot of comedy in it. Superhero Girl’s a comedy too, so it works best if it’s very cartoony and has cartoony fight scenes.
Geek: There’s a strong 80s teen-movie vibe to much of this book, tempered with the emotional insight of classic YA fiction. What movies/TV/books really influenced you growing up, and what elements of those did you try to bring to this work?
Shen: I was and am an enormous fan of John Hughes, because he never underplayed or lost the hugeness of the things when you’re a teenager. Even now, only about a decade out from being 18, I look back on things that were world-ending then and can only roll my eyes because I’ve gotten older and crankier and have to do taxes now. But there’s also a flip side to this where it isn’t just that we lost our ability to take those teenaged problems seriously, but we forget the very real, very eternal problems we had as teenagers; see: Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I also grew up destroying through rereading copies of Gordon Korman’s Macdonald Hall series books and Karen Cushman’s luminously wonderful historical YA novels, including Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice, because she was never shy about writing the unpleasantness of teenaged life (in any era).
Hicks: I’m trying to think … I’m not really sure about movies or TV. I grew up without a TV so that wasn’t really something that was a part of my childhood and teenage years. And as for books I wasn’t really interested in realistic fiction when I was a kid/teenager. I was more into science fiction and fantasy. It’s only recently that I’ve been picking up books that aren’t set in the future or have some supernatural twist. I mean, NCPGW is the very first story I’ve done that doesn’t have zombies or ghosts or demons or a post-apocalyptic setting …
Geek: What comics and comic creators influenced (and influence) you?
Shen: I’ll defer this one to Faith. My bookshelf has only recently started collecting English language comics.
Hicks: My top three are Jeff Smith (Bone), Naoki Urasawa (20th Century Boys, Pluto) and Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist). Arakawa’s artwork was especially a big influence on NCPGW. I was reading through all of Fullmetal Alchemist while drawing NCPGW, and the way she draws comedy had a big impact.
Geek: Are there any plans for a return to these characters and this world in the future? Perhaps a ’Nothing Else Can Possibly Go Wrong’?
Hicks: Haha, maybe if the book sells really well? No plans at the moment, but you never know.
Shen: You’ve already jinxed them with that title! Hilariously, I did actually have an always-unwritten epilogue slash short novella for this planned out in my head where we see Nate and Charlie again in college. All the details weren’t sketched in, but it involved a DARPA project, friendly blackmail, using social media to track down a weather balloon gone rogue, and revisiting all of Team Awesome when they’re 21.
Geek: Now that this project has been released into the world, what’s next? What other projects do you each have in the works?
Shen: Right now I’m outlining a story about a girl who goes on a round-the-universe high school graduation trip to find herself…and promptly has her spaceship boarded by pirates. So!
Hicks: I’m finishing up co-writing and drawing The Last of Us: American Dreams and then I’m diving into the third Bigfoot Boy book. After that, nothing confirmed, but I hope to have something lined up soon. And I’m going to San Diego Comic Con this summer! I’m really excited about that. It’s my Disney World.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is in stores now.