A Q&A with Alice Oseman
As the long-awaited Heartstopper Volume 5 finally lands, we present a Q&A with the pioneering graphic novel series' creator Alice Oseman in which she discusses Nick and Charlie's first literary appearance, the importance of taking down stereotypes and what readers can expect in the fifth volume.
When and how did the idea of creating Heartstopper first come to you?
I first started drawing the characters from Heartstopper ten years ago! I was eighteen, and I’d got a publishing deal for my first book, Solitaire, which features Nick and Charlie as secondary characters. They’re in a solid, loving relationship already when we first meet them in Solitaire. I wondered a lot about their backstory, but I just couldn’t get it to work in a novel – their story didn’t have a beginning, middle and end structure to suit that format. When I began drawing them, I realised that the comics format allowed me to tell the story in a much better way. And from that Nick and Charlie became the central characters in Heartstopper.
Nick and Charlie have such a fan base across the world – tell us a bit more about them.
Nick is a bit of a gentle giant – while he might look like a rugby lad on the outside, he is actually thoughtful and caring, and willing to see the good in everybody. Some might compare him to a golden retriever! Charlie, on the other hand, is an introverted overthinker (and a proud nerd), with a quiet confidence in himself despite the bullying he’s gone through.
We saw you and the Heartstopper gang take on Pride in real life this summer – what does Pride mean to you?
I love the way that Pride means different things to different people, and I’ve tried to reflect that in the stories and art I’ve made about Pride over the years. It’s such an important way of finding strength and joy in your community. And it’s also about friendship, which is something I try to highlight in my books – I think friendship can be just as powerful, if not more so, than romance.
Over the course of the series, I’ve been really impressed by how you’ve explored and taken down stereotypes. Can you talk a little about that?
For me, one of the important parts of the first Heartstopper book in particular is to challenge the idea that someone’s sexuality is determined by their interests or appearance, or vice versa. Even Charlie assumes to start with that Nick must be straight, simply because he loves sport. At the same time, the rugby team question Charlie’s rugby skills because they know he’s gay – but he actually ends up being pretty decent at it because he’s such a fast runner. I try to portray people who are complex and multi-faceted, because that’s how people are in real life.
Volume 5 is hotly anticipated by readers everywhere. What can you tell us about it?
By the beginning of this volume, Nick and Charlie have finally said ‘I love you’ and they’re settling into the new phase of their relationship. But summer is around the corner, and they and the whole Heartstopper gang are looking towards the future. Nick is going to have to make some decisions about where he’s going for university – is he going to stay close to Charlie, or move far away?
One of the other things I’ve really enjoyed is being able to bring out the characters within Nick and Charlie’s friend group over the series – they have such a great group of friends. Being able to write and draw more about Tara and Darcy, Tao and Elle, Sahar, Tori – and of course Charlie’s dog, Nellie! – has been great.
And what’s next after Heartstopper?
Heartstopper Volume 6 is still to come, of course, but what next? That’s the big question! You’ll have to ask me again when I’ve worked it out myself!
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