George O'Connor talks about his series Olympians and his love of the Greek gods and goddesses that he writes and illustrates.
Charlie Chang: How did you get your start in comics and illustrations?
George O'Connor: I was one those guys that always liked comics but when I got out of school I broke into kids books initially, I did picture books first. I got out of school in the 90s, the comics industry wasn't doing so great, at least the stuff that I wanted to do. I was publishing some children's books at Simon & Schuster and the designer on those books was Mark Siegel so we were both comic guys and then a couple years later he started this new imprint, First Second. He was me if I had any ideas to pitch cause I'd wanted to do comics for years. Now I had done some stuff that I'm not going to admit to but I got to work on my first graphic novel Journey to Mohawk Country. Since then I've been doing tons of stuff with First Second.
CC: Let's jump right into Olympians, where did this idea come from?
GC: When I was in fourth grade I was introduced to Greek mythology for the first time. I always used to like to draw monsters and muscle men being eaten by monster and pretty ladies and Greek mythology became my big thing. I became this huge Greek myth nerd. I actually got into comics through Greek mythology cause I had read other types of myths like Norse mythology and my first comic I really got into was Thor because of that. So I always associate superheroes and Greek myths. To me it's the same thing, a good superhero comic is mythology. Neil Porter who is my editor on Olympians and I were at a party once and I made a super geeky Greek mythology reference about someone who we both knew at the party and Neil looks back at me and pulls a book off the shelf that was about the size of Olympians and goes "What if you did a graphic novel that was about Greek myths?" So I ran home and wrote the first draft of Zeus over the next two weeks. CC: I can completely relate to that because I remember Greek mythology being the first lesson in my history class that I genuinely cared about and had an interest in.
GC: I make jokes about how you get to study all this stuff that you really can't tell stories about people eating each other and monsters but in Green mythology that's all it was. The funny thing is it was good, you were supposed to be doing it. I think so many comics people go through that myths phase. I think it's almost ubiquitous where everybody's got a period where they are very into whatever your myth is at the time.
CC: Do you have a favorite Greek god or goddess?
GC: Yeah! I have two. Favorite god is Hermes. When I was a kid I had t do an oral report dressed up as Hermes. He's still my favorite. You'll probably notice if you read the series but he gets all the best lines. The other character that gets the best lines is Hera. I love Hera! That's a weird one because everyone remembers Hera as being jealous and weird but the reason she's jealous and horrible is because she's got the worst husband that's ever lived.
CC: With all of the different gods and goddesses, was one of the books particularly surprising to write?
GC: I save some of my favorite characters for some of the series. I'm actually saving Hera for later but the one that surprised me is the newest one Ares. He's just kind of a maniac and I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to find a way to make him more relate-able. While doing his book I noticed there were a lot of myths where he gets upset when something bad happens to his kids. It's a motif that pops up in a lot of his stuff so I kind of hung the story on that where I showed that out of all the gods he's the most sympathetic father. There's an issue in the book where I retell the Iliad and the Iliad has that famous scene where Zeus tells him in front of everyone that he's his least favorite child and that's the moment where I really tried to make Ares a human and sympathetic character. That was one of those cool things that I didn't know going in and eventually discovered as I worked on that book.
This interview was conducted and transribed by Charlie Chang. Interested in comics and graphic novels? Sign up for Comics Delivers, a weekly email featuring the best in comics each week - from weekly booklists to deals and exclusive content from creators.