Ride On is two-time Eisner award winner Faith Erin Hicks’ 15th graphic novel. It’s also one of her most personal. “There is nothing in this book that is completely true to events that happened to me,” said Hicks in a recent interview, “but I would consider it emotionally true.”
As a former horse-loving teen herself, Hicks is intimately familiar with horses and riding culture. Building on this deep personal knowledge and cultural fluency, Hicks creates a highly realistic, relatable world packed with detail and nuance.
She’s also incredibly skilled at drawing beautiful, lifelike horses from every conceivable angle.
Narratively, the story centers on Victoria, a talented teen horse lover with a distinctive blue ponytail. As the story begins, Victoria is in the midst of her first riding lesson at Edgewood Stables. Before long, the exceedingly quiet Hazel recognizes Victoria as a rider from Waverly Stables. “Our rival!” stablemate Norrie exclaims, with an excess of performative drama. “Our sworn enemy in all things horse related!” “They don’t even know we exist,” counters Sam, the only boy at the stable.
There’s a kernel of truth in Norrie’s histrionic reaction. As anyone with kids can attest, the idea of playing soccer, softball, tennis—or participating in virtually any other activity—“just for fun” is a largely thing of the past. From swimming to LEGO robotics and everything in between, after school activities these days are all about competition. On and off the page, leagues, tournaments, and rankings provide intrinsically high-stakes conflict with a built-in sense of urgency.
Refreshingly, Hicks ditches these well-worn sports tropes in favor of a story that feels more unique. By centering characters, not competition, we get a deeper, more revealing look at Victoria, Norrie, Hazel, and Sam. They’re likable, relatable, and they mesh together beautifully, giving us a nice array of personality types, skin tones, and objectives in a compact ensemble.
Artistically, Hicks’ cartooning is virtually flawless. The book’s pacing is extraordinary, with expertly crafted beats from start to finish. Scenes consistently end on a high point, like mini cliffhangers, compelling you to keep turning pages to see how it all plays out.
Hicks’ illustrations are also top notch. Characters are bold and lifelike, with an excellent balance between medium and close-up framings. Facial expressions are clear and instantly readable. Backgrounds brim with rich detail, immersing you in the world of the story. And the colors are simply gorgeous, with a lovely mixture of blue, red, and green that makes the characters pop. The story flows intuitively, peppered by Hicks’ consistently funny, pitch-perfect dialogue.
If the book stumbles at all, it’s in the decision not to pump up the stakes, which proves to be a double-edged sword. Hicks doesn’t follow the template, which tends to diffuse the tension and essentially eliminate any real sense of urgency.
Conversely, these are real teens with real feelings, real relationships, and real problems. Not the least of which is controlling big, powerful animals who sometimes do what they want. As Hicks says about her own life, “Horses were an escape. They were a sense of excitement and danger in my life. … I got to gallop around on horseback which was exciting and dangerous and adventurous in a way that I didn’t necessarily have in my daily life.”
Whether you love horses or not, Ride On is a beautiful book that is sure to carry you away.
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