Sports and comics should go hand and hand, yet outside of manga and X-Men softball games, it’s not as common as you think. Stephanie Phillips is changing that with her project Kicking Ice, a graphic novel currently on Kickstarter. Stephanie, artist Lee Moder and their team is working closely with the National Women’s Hockey League to bring the story of girls playing hockey to life, and we got an opportunity to talk to her about it!
Stephanie, thanks for sitting down with us about Kicking Ice! What’s your elevator pitch for the series?
Kicking Ice is about two young, female hockey players learning to play the sport inspired by their heroes in the National Women’s Hockey League. The book celebrates equality and inclusiveness in sports through the inspirational and groundbreaking efforts of some of the pioneering figures in women’s hockey.
Is it going to be ongoing, a graphic novel or limited series?
The current volume is available on Kickstarter as a graphic novel in hardcover, softcover, and digital formats. Of course, depending on the success of this first volume, we are very interested in looking at continuing the story and possibly trying more formats as well.
Can you tell us when you starting working on Kicking Ice?
I have always been interested in writing a story involving hockey given my own background playing hockey. In 2017 I happened to discuss this idea with Ominous Press and the reality of Kicking Ice really started to take shape almost immediately as I realized how interested they were in publishing this concept. The NWHL was also immediately on board and interested in the concept, so the book has been like a snowball picking up more momentum as it goes.
You have a personal connection to the story. Can you tell us about that a little bit?
I enjoy both playing and watching hockey. I started playing roller hockey when I was in middle school and made the switch to ice hockey as a teen. I have always played co-ed hockey, which often meant I was the only female on the ice, or even in the entire league. Kicking Ice reflects some of the struggles associated with being a girl and playing on a boys’ team, such as bullying. However, I really want Kicking Ice to also represent a supportive community. Our main characters, Bella and Skye, have the support of their teammates, parents, coaches, and friends.
How did Ominous Press get involved in the project?
It really started with a casual conversation about my interest in writing this book and why I thought it was unique. I am really excited that everyone at Ominous was immediately receptive and invested in making the idea a reality.
In terms of the visuals for the comic, what did you have in mind?
Honestly, I don’t know that I knew how the book would look until I saw Lee’s concept art. Now, I can’t imagine our characters looking any other way. Lee really nailed what the book needed with his style.
How did you connect with Lee Moder for your line art?
Lee has worked with a lot of the creators at Ominous Press before, and he was really quickly mentioned as the perfect person to work on Kicking Ice. I think his work with Ron Marz on Dragon Prince from Image Comics really demonstrated an ability to make all-ages comics and tell an impactful story.
What was it about Lee Moder as an artist that you felt he was the right artist for Kicking Ice?
Lee is an amazing artist and storyteller. Just look at his page layouts on anything he has done and I think you will see a pretty immediate sense of his investment in a story and his ability to creatively engage with the visuals through facial expressions, layouts, backgrounds, and even clothing details. Lee just finished working on a page for Kicking Ice that shows a crowd at an NWHL game. The page must have 50-something people on it, and each person has individualized attire, expressions, etc. He has been really amazing to work with.
How did you connect with Marissa Louise as your color artist?
I have always wanted to work with Marissa. Her work is versatile and gorgeous and has been an absolutely perfect compliment to Lee’s work. A mutual friend put me in touch with Marissa and she is really invested in the project and the subject matter. Marissa is actually from Buffalo, NY, so she has a personal love for the Buffalo Beauts NWHL team.
Can you tell us about the main characters in Kicking Ice?
Bella and Skye are both exceptionally determined to excel at their chosen sport. Bella comes from a figure skating background and befriends Skye when she moves from Boston to Connecticut. Skye has been playing hockey for years, and introduces her new best friend to both playing hockey and the NWHL. Their friendship really blossoms over a shared love for playing and watching hockey.
As an independent creator can you tell about some of the challenges you have faced in creating Kicking Ice?
The biggest challenge is really managing my time and understanding that I am not able to focus 100% of my time on writing. I am learning about how difficult and time consuming it is to run a Kickstarter as well. However, there is also a huge benefit to the creator-owned route. I get to ensure, along with Ominous Press, that every aspect of the book and its production is how we want it. There are no real rules, we are just making what we think is going to be the best possible story and product.
Why is comics the right medium for this story?
Sports are inherently about movement and I think the power of a visual medium is that we can really show just how amazing this sport looks. At times, I break down movements, such as a wrist shot, to show readers just how much work goes into one shot that happens very quickly on the ice. The cool thing about the images in the book being static is that we can take the time to show the complexities of these movements in a way that other mediums perhaps can’t. It’s also just really fun to be able to design jerseys and really see iconic figures from the sport in the pages of the book.
Who are some of your favorite comic creators?
Amanda Connor is one of the first names that comes to mind and I have to say it is a huge honor to be able to work with Amanda to develop a cover for Kicking Ice. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but, beyond being exceptionally talented, Amanda is one of the nicest people in the world. I can’t wait to show fans the cover that she is working on for us.
This list could get very long, very fast! As a horror writer and fan, it’s hard not to love anything that Bernie Wrightson ever did. I was also a pretty devoted fan of anything Loeb and Sale worked on in the 90s. Batman was really my first introduction to comics. I also really admire the work of creators like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Garth Ennis, Fiona Staples, and Joelle Jones, and I am exceptionally lucky to currently be working on projects alongside Meghan Hetrick, Maan House, and Dee Cunniffe.
What comics are you currently reading?
My pull list is not long enough, to be honest. I am currently really into Kill or Be Killed from the creative team of Brubaker and Phillips, Murphy and Hollingsworth’s Batman: White Knight, Marvel’s All-New Wolverine, Top Cow’s Witchblade reboot, and Tom King and Lee Weeks’ Batman Annual had me in tears. I tend to read a lot of indie comics and have loved everything coming from Black Mask, Aftershock, Scout, and Vault.
Why did you take Kicking Ice down the crowdfunding route?
I really see Kicking Ice as more than just a book about playing hockey. My hope is that the message of equality and inclusiveness transcends the pages of the book. To make that happen, we designed a Kickstarter with rewards and social goals that could help prompt discussion and fan engagement in creative and perhaps unexpected ways. More than simply crowd funding, we want to engage a community and foster their excitement about women’s hockey and our message of empowerment.
If the initial story does well would you be open to telling more stories in this world?
Absolutely. Not only is there room to tell more stories around the NWHL, but I would love to engage other sports communities as well.
How did you feel about hitting your funding goal early?
I had no idea what to expect when I started this campaign. This is my first Kickstarter, so I was somewhat nervous. Meeting the goal early is a testament to the amazing fans and community around women’s hockey.
As a female creator is it important to be creating a comic with female characters?
For me personally, yes. I say that only because a lot of this story comes from my personal experiences as a female athlete. That does not mean that being a female athlete is the only way to write empowering books for girls and women, but it personally gave me the experience that I needed to tell Kicking Ice.
As a female involved in a male-centric industry what has been your experience like so far?
I absolutely love working in comics and I love the people I collaborate with. From being on the boys’ varsity soccer team in high school, to playing co-ed hockey, and even competing as a martial artist in Muay Thai, I think I am used to being in very male-dominated settings. Personally, that has little bearing on what I do as an artist or athlete. I am going to play my hardest and write my best no matter what.
Any message for our readers?
You can view our campaign on Kickstarter and we would really appreciate your support backing the campaign and spreading the word. While we are funded, we still have some pretty awesome stretch goals that we are hoping to reach. I am also available for any questions about the book through my personal Twitter (@Steph_Smash) or the Kicking Ice Twitter account (@KickingIce). Feel free to follow Kicking Ice on social media for updates!
You can find the Kicking Ice Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1698370626/kicking-ice-a-graphic-novel-about-womens-hockey?ref=9nfq73 and follow their social media for more information!