Graphic novelist and picture book illustrator George O’Connor has many stories to tell. In particular these days, he’s telling us the age-old tales of Greek gods and goddesses. The third title in his Olympians series, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory (First Second), will be released this month. Preceded by Zeus and Athena, these graphic novels with vibrant art, snappy dialogue and rip-roarin’ action have been praised by critics for their presentation, research and “superhero appeal.”
Read last week's Seven Impossible Things on Jack Gantos.
I interrupted O'Connor at his drawing table to conduct a short Q&A on these titles and what readers can expect next.
I've seen more than one reviewer describe these titles as great for so-called reluctant readers. Your thoughts on that?
I think that’s great. The combination of pictures and words makes for an incredibly valuable teaching tool. From my own experience, I grew up reading comics strips like Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes that used some immensely sophisticated vocabulary that could have gone way over my head, but the combo of pictures and context helped me to read well above the level I would have been capable of otherwise.
How do you feel about the resurgence of graphic novels, which seem to be more popular than ever?
I’m not sure “resurgence” is the term I’d use—it makes it sound as if graphic novels had previously reached this level and retreated. Like you said, they seem to be more popular than ever, they’ve moved into uncharted territory regarding their mainstream popularity and acceptance, particularly by librarians and teachers. Is “surgence” a word?...Comics have blossomed into this amazing field that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible. I feel very fortunate to be making comics at this point of time, when such a wide variety of subjects and styles are being explored and published. It’s a new golden age, comics-wise.
I love all the source notes (“Greek Notes “) at the close of each Olympian title. Are they as fun to write as they look?
At heart, there is probably nothing in this world I love more than writing and drawing about the Greek myths…I’m also like the geekiest guy you’ll ever meet, and I mean that in a good way, and I just love hiding all these little Easter eggs in my books to reward the careful readers. There’s a lot more stuff in each volume of Olympians than is even spelled out in my Greek Notes.
However, trying to distill these old, wonderful stories into approximately 65 pages of comics, with a point of view and a story arc and relatable characters, etc.,…well, sometimes, that is incredibly difficult. When the story flows out of me easily, like it did when I wrote Zeus: King of the Gods, it’s indescribably wonderful—there’s a sort of magic in it.
On the other hand, other times that magic is harder to find. I’m experiencing a bit of that right now as I work on the fifth Olympians book, Poseidon: The Yet to be Subtitled…Writing is the hardest part of the whole bookmaking experience for me no doubt.
Well, if all goes according to plan, there will be 12 total books in the Olympians series. As I already mentioned, I’m hard at work on book 5, Poseidon, to be followed up by Aphrodite. I also have a couple of picture books coming out from Candlewick Press, If I Had a Triceratops and If I Had a Raptor that both play on my other great childhood obsession, dinosaurs, and that I’m very excited about. The first of those is supposed to be coming out sometime next year.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.