- For anyone who isn’t in the know, what is Heartstopper about?
Heartstopper is an ongoing webcomic about two teenage boys – Nick Nelson, a soft-hearted rugby player, and Charlie Spring, an openly gay over-thinker. They meet at an all-boys grammar school and quickly become friends. Charlie soon falls for Nick, but, believing Nick to be straight, thinks he has no chance. Or does he…?
The comic explores romance, friendships, coming-of-age, figuring out one’s identity, and, eventually, mental health. Nick and Charlie are secondary characters from my first published novel, Solitaire.
- You recently sold out of Heartstopper zines in less than an hour after product launch – what’s it been like getting that support from your fans?
Completely unexpected and utterly amazing. I truly never expected that I’d get so many readers and that they’d be so passionate about my comic! I feel so incredibly lucky to have such strong support from my readers online. It’s just so cool to make something and be able to share that with so many people!
- Nick and Charlie are characters you’ve returned to a lot in your art and writing – what do these characters (and what does their relationship) mean to you?
I never expected Nick and Charlie to become such longstanding characters of mine. Their role in Solitaire wasn’t particularly large. I think that’s where the initial intrigue began for me – I had written this really healthy, wonderful relationship and two characters that I loved, but given myself no chance to explore their backstory or their relationship dynamic in depth. I knew very quickly after finishing Solitaire that I was going to have to tell their full backstory one day, in one form or another. I spent a good portion of my free time during my A-Levels drawing a sort of early version of Heartstopper by hand with pens and pencils in a set of sketchbooks! (Before you ask, no, you can’t see it, it’s TERRIBLE).
But I think it’s more than just a desire to tell their backstory that keeps me returning to these two. There’s something so peaceful about writing such a strong, supportive, loving relationship, and something so interesting about exploring a long-term teenage relationship. They give off an aura of peace and happiness, which makes them a complete joy to read and write.
- How do you think the free-to-read format of your comics has helped you, if at all? And what do you think to the success of your Patreon?
I have no doubt that Heartstopper would have struggled to gain an audience had I made it entirely pay-to-read or even attempted to get it traditionally published. The contemporary YA graphic novel market is very small in the UK (or so it seems to me!) but the webcomic community is absolutely booming. Making the webcomic readable for free has rapidly brought in tens of thousands of readers. I started the comic in September 2016, and as of now in late January 2018, the comic has almost 40,000 followers/subscribers across Tumblr and Tapas! Building that audience and fanbase is so vital for an ongoing project like Heartstopper.
I’m very happy to let people read Heartstopper for free and earn money from the comic in other ways, such as Patreon, merchandise, the Tapas tipping system, and, eventually, selling the comic as a physical book! The success of my Patreon has been another big surprise. I really love Patreon as both a creator and a patron – it’s such an honest, transparent way to offer financial support to your favourite online creators. But I definitely didn’t think I’d end up with a community of over 500 patrons! I think keeping my tiers affordable and posting very regularly has been the key to my success there. The support I get on Patreon has really changed my life!
- Romance is key in Heartstopper – do you think you would ever write a romance novel?
Well, I wouldn’t say no! I’ve never been particularly drawn to writing stories that focus on romance – Heartstopper seems to be the strong exception there. But I definitely wouldn’t say no. Maybe an idea will come one day and I’ll write one! It all depends on finding the right characters, the right relationship dynamic, and a really interesting story to tell…
- MLM romances have historically often been marketed at a straight female readership – what do you think to this, and who would you say Heartstopper is aimed at?
It’s definitely a problem and one I’m very aware of. The fetishisation and objectification of queer boys and men is particularly rampant in the webcomic community. I take close care when writing Heartstopper to avoid this approach to my characters and, when I can, to educate my readers about the dangers of this attitude towards queer boys and men.
Heartstopper, in my mind, is primarily aimed at queer and questioning teenagers and young adults. But I am of course very happy for anyone outside of that to read and enjoy it too!
- What’s next for Heartstopper?
Next in the comic? Well, by the time this interview is posted, it’ll be almost time for a new mini-comic (the fifth mini-comic, can you believe!) My patrons voted for the theme to be ‘Regency Era AU’. A few weeks before Nick and Charlie’s first kiss, Nick falls asleep in class while reading Pride and Prejudice and has a little dream involving the Regency era, a dance, and, of course, Charlie Spring…
Behind-the-scenes, one of my big goals this year is to self-publish chapters one and two of Heartstopper, probably through a crowdfunding campaign. A physical book! There’s a LOT of work to do, but I’m determined to make it happen over the coming months.
- And finally……. What can you tell us about IWBFT?
I Was Born for This is my third novel, to be published by HarperCollins on May 3rd 2018. It’s my first dually-narrated novel, voiced by Jimmy, the lead singer of internationally famous boy band ‘The Ark’, and Angel, a fangirl of the band. They’re both gearing up for The Ark’s final concert of their current tour, but over the course of one week, their lives start to entwine in strange and unusual ways, and the band boy and the fangirl start to question everything they thought they knew about themselves and each other…
The book is probably my weirdest yet, which is definitely a good thing. It features, among other things, an antique knife, a fictional winner of The X Factor, a secret girlfriend, a very attractive alcoholic, angel wings, four mentions of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a lot of Twitter DMs, a tenth-century church, and a highly anxious trans boy.
I can’t WAIT to share this book and these characters with the world.