Heartstopper: a boy-meets-boy graphic novel romance that will win your heart

Published on: 14 February 2019 Author: Alice Oseman

Alice Oseman talks us through her LGBTQ+ love story for young adults and teens, which began as an online webcomic and – after growing a massive fanbase – has just been published into a gorgeous new graphic novel.

Alice Oseman, the author-illustrator behind Heartstopper

In February this year, my debut graphic novel Heartstopper is released. It’s the story of two teenage boys, Nick and Charlie, who meet at an all-boys grammar school, become friends, and maybe start to feel something more.

It’s something I’ve been working on for years and something I’ve been thinking about for even longer. But unlike most debuts, including my own YA novel debut Solitaire, I self-published it first.

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Telling the story of Nick and Charlie

Heartstopper started as a webcomic – an ongoing comic serialised three times a month since September 2016. My desire to create a webcomic began a couple of years prior, when I was first introduced to webcomics though the likes of popular comics such as "Check, Please!" I was drawn to the immediacy of this form of storytelling; I loved the idea that I could tell a story over such a long period of time and chat to readers about the story along the way.

While my first and then second novels were published, digital art had become my main hobby. I had a lot of free time outside of writing, and I was soon due to graduate from university, so I made the decision to begin a webcomic of my own.

I knew immediately what my webcomic would be about. Nick and Charlie are secondary characters from my debut novel, Solitaire. I found myself wondering about their lives and whether there was a second story there waiting to be told. 

I decided to start my comic when I reached a point at which I felt confident in my artwork. I’d been practising digital drawing for almost four years and my drawing skills had greatly improved. I had taught myself to use a graphics tablet and drawing software and was knowledgeable about the world of webcomics. I also had a guaranteed audience – a small one, but it was a start – of readers and online followers who had read my novels and/or were interested in the story of Nick and Charlie. I began drawing pages of the comic in early 2016 and on the first of September, I posted the first ten pages of the comic.

Meet Nick and Charlie

Play
Detail from the front cover of Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman
'I like you': spread from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman
Nick and his crush: spread from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman
Nick and Charlie kiss: spread from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman
Nick and Charlie from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman
Detail from the front cover of Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman

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'I like you': spread from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman

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Nick and his crush: spread from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman

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Nick and Charlie kiss: spread from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman

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Nick and Charlie from Heartstopper, a graphic novel by Alice Oseman

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Online readers in the tens of thousands

Still, at this point, Heartstopper was a passion project. I didn’t anticipate making any money. I loved these characters and I loved drawing. The thrill of getting comments and reactions after every comic update gave me something to look forward to three times a month.

The comic grew steadily in audience, and finding I had more time to spare, I upped my page output. People who had never heard of my books started discovering my comic. And it continued to grow until the readership was in the thousands, and then the tens of thousands.

After a few months, it became apparent to me that I needed some sort of financial support if I were to continue posting the comic at the rate I had been thus far. I was a self-employed author, and very lucky to be so, but income was erratic and unpredictable, and Heartstopper was taking up at least half of my working hours (the other half being used to work on my novels).

I made the decision to set up a Patreon – a website where readers of the comic could choose to support the comic for $1-$5 per month in exchange for exclusive bonus content. This was one of the best decisions I made throughout the Heartstopper journey, as it was this that allowed me to spend maximum time and energy on the comic, create merchandise, and eventually, self-publish with confidence.

Crowdfunding the book

Creating a physical version of the comic had never been my primary goal when I started the comic, but as the readership grew, it became more and more of a possibility. I knew it was something that many webcomic creators did when their comic reached a certain level of popularity and the thought of having a physical book to hold in my hands was incredibly exciting. But I didn’t know the first thing about self-publishing, and so I turned to my literary agent to see if the comic had any chance at traditional publication.

She confirmed my fears – there was no real market for YA contemporary graphic novels in the UK, and it’d be highly unlikely any publisher would want to publish it. Self-publishing was my best, and possibly only, option.

So, at the start of 2018 I made it my aim to produce a physical edition of the first two chapters. I spent many months researching how this could be achieved. I learnt how Kickstarter worked, how book printing worked, how to format a book, and how to use InDesign. I fully designed the book from cover to copyright pages. This was an arduous and stressful process, but having full control over the design was invigorating, because in traditional publishing, authors rarely have control over the design of their books.

In June 2018, I launched the Kickstarter, with the aim to raise £9,000, which covered the production of one thousand books (to be sent out to the backers of the project), merchandise for those who pledged extra, Kickstarter fees, postage, packaging, and my own time. The campaign, to my absolute amazement, raised the full amount in an hour and a half. And by the end of the month-long campaign, I had raised nearly £60,000. The rest of the year was spent fulfilling these Kickstarter orders. My village post office got to know me very well indeed!

Getting Heartstopper out into the world

During this process, I was contacted by an editor at Hachette Children’s Group, who was very interested in publishing Heartstopper traditionally. I heartily accepted a deal with Hachette, meaning that Heartstopper: Volume One and three further volumes would be published in the years to come, without me having to run to and from my village post office every day.

Heartstopper has not had the most ordinary journey to publication. What I’ve learned over the past few years is that if you want to make something happen, you can, with dedication, determination, and passion.

If you want to publish a book, you can spend months learning how to do it, and then do it.

I am very proud to say that I created my webcomic by myself, grew that community by myself, and self-published by myself. And as overjoyed as I am to be joining together with Hachette and sharing many of the tasks involved in publishing a book with a team of passionate people, I know that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken the leap by myself right back at the beginning.

I’m so glad I did.

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