Hockey, in particular, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), is very near and dear to writer Stephanie Phillips heart, and Kicking Ice shows it. The all-ages graphic novel about two young female hockey players who dream of being drafted is like a love letter to the NWHL. Since its in inception in October 2015, the NWHL continues to uphold its social values of equality, empowerment, and inclusiveness. Phillips’ Kicking Ice reflects this through Skye and Bella’s experiences.
With a Kickstarter already underway, Phillips is excited to see her dream coming to fruition.
You played roller hockey when you were younger, though your fascination was with ice hockey. Did you go on to play hockey on the ice?
I started playing roller hockey when I was in middle school, but I made the switch to ice hockey towards the end of high school. I kind of fell into roller hockey by accident and didn’t really know where to look for ice. I grew up in a neighborhood with a bunch of boys all my age. We were always playing football or basketball together. There were two boys who played ice hockey and they started organizing street hockey games. I became obsessed. I was never the first person picked when we divvied up teams, but after a couple of weeks of roller hockey, I was actually one of the best players and the first picked to a team. That felt like a huge accomplishment for me. I had always played sports growing up, but I had never been one of the best before. I felt like I had finally found something that I both loved and was getting better at every day.
Ice hockey obviously took a little longer to nail down. Before you can even shoot the puck, you have to learn to not fall on the ice. Roller hockey definitely helped make the transition and I still play recreationally whenever I can.
How involved is the NWHL with this project?
When I first had the idea for this project I actually made a call to the NWHL. I wanted the book to feature the league and give a little background on their work creating this league. I had no idea how the league would receive this idea, but I got on the phone with the NWHL communications consultant, Chris Botta, and he was immediately interested. He told me to run with the idea, and so I did.
The NWHL has been extremely supportive of the project. We have many NWHL players who have even agreed to be in the book, such as Ashley Johnston, Anya Battaglino, and Kelsey Koelzer. The commissioner and founder of the NWHL, Dani Rylan, is also writing an introduction to the book.
Kicking Ice promises to deal with many issues that girls face both on and off the ice, including sexism and bullying. Does Skye in particular face other issues as a person of colour?
Representation is exceptionally important in a sport that is, in most cases, very homogeneous in terms of race. My portrayal of Skye and her family, I hope, shows someone who is an exceptional athlete with a strong familial support system to help her achieve her dream of playing professionally. I also have Skye interacting with players, such as Kelsey Koelzer, an African American player from the Metropolitan Riveters, in order to also showcase the inclusivity and diversity of the NWHL. The NWHL has been supportive of all players regardless of race, sexual orientation, or identity. The inclusiveness of this league is something that makes them powerfully unique, and is one of the reasons I wanted to celebrate their progress in this graphic novel.
I think when we talk about growing the game of hockey, or any sport for that matter, we have to discuss growing the game for everyone and ensuring that we help anyone interested in playing to find access to the sport. Skye is confident and knowledgeable about hockey in a way that Bella, our other main character, is not. The reader’s access to hockey is through a young black girl who dominates her male opponents on the ice. I think it would be pretty kick ice if any little girl sees Skye and is able to identify with her.
How did you bring your team together to create this project? Do any of them have particular interests or stakes in the subject matter and the NWHL?
This project is definitely only possible thanks to the amazing team behind it. I can’t begin to say enough amazing things about our publisher Ominous Press, and the CEO Sean HusVar. Once again, when I pitched this project to Ominous, I had no idea what to expect. What I got was, “We need to make this happen. Let’s get to work.” The project has really been like a snowball rolling downhill and collecting momentum as it goes.
Our artist, Lee Moder, has worked on all-ages projects before and he was such a clear choice because there was no question about whether he could draw children. Lee is also a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and brings a lot of hockey knowledge to the project. Working with Lee is really easy, because references to hockey gear and terminology usually need little explanation.
Our colorist, Marissa Louise, is absolutely amazing and helps to make Lee’s pages come to life. Marissa has a particular connection to Buffalo, and happens to be a fan of both the Buffalo Sabers and the Buffalo Beauts. So, naturally, I wanted a team that was on board with the mission and the message, and we all just clicked into place.
Given that this is your first Kickstarter and, less than a week into its launch, you were already almost halfway to your initial goal, this must have been quite a feeling. How does the Kickstarter response compare to your expectations going into this endeavour?
I honestly don’t know what my expectation was when we launched the Kickstarter. I think the most unexpected thing has been the supportive emails and Twitter messages about how the project is resonating in so many different ways with the hockey community. I have been brought to tears on more than one occasion while reading messages from parents about how their daughters have been bullied on the ice for simply being girls. I definitely don’t think that Kicking Ice alone is something that will change years of learned sexist behavior, but I do hope that any readers experiencing bullying can at least identify that they are a part of a supportive community and they are not alone.
Kicking Ice is an all-ages graphic novel published Ominous Press about girls playing ice hockey written by Stephanie Phillips, drawn by Lee Moder, and colored by Marissa Louise. In partnership with the National Women’s Hockey League, a portion of its proceeds will go to the NWHL to help the league continue its mission of improving the ice for all players.