When you are fortunate enough to receive books and projects to review, you never know what will reach you in an unexpected way. These don’t have to be mainstream titles that everyone is familiar with. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a story aimed at adults. This was the case when we were presented with a charming graphic novel from Illustrator/Writer Olivia Stephens entitled Artie and the Wolf Moon. It mixes a story about family and community with Werewolves and Vampires and combines it with Stephen’s whimsical illustrations. After reading it through, we needed to talk to Olivia and learn how this all came about. So let’s welcome Creator Olivia Stephens to GVN’s Talking Comics Interview.
GVN: Thank you for giving us some of your time Olivia
OS: Thanks so much for having me!
GVN: Let’s start out by discussing some of your history. What got you interested in writing and who were the authors or works that most inspired you?
OS: I’ve been writing and drawing here and there since I was a little kid. But my passion was really ignited in middle school when I fell head first into shonen manga. “Bleach” was massively impactful and I ended up mimicking Kubo’s style a lot. Especially when first figuring out the mechanics of drawing people. “Fullmetal Alchemist” by Hiromu Arakawa was, and still is, one of my favorite stories ever told. A little later on, I was introduced to the amazing world of webcomics. There, I found a lot of inspiration through subtle, emotional character journeys like “O Human Star” by Blue Delliquanti and “The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal” by E.K. Weaver.
GVN: You studied illustration at the Rhode Island school of Design, achieving your BFA. Did you have a certain goal or type of job you were aiming for with that degree or were you pretty much open to who ever wanted your skills?
OS: I knew I wanted to make comics (and had been self-publishing comics online) since my first year at RISD. However, the department courses were mostly geared towards editorial illustration, concept art, and children’s books. I took all the comics courses that I was able to and tried to fill the rest of my schedule with concept courses. These would allow me to experiment with worldbuilding and design for my story ideas. Outside of school, I was updating a webcomic and selling printed copies of my comics at conventions on the east coast. That was my attempt to supplement what the department lacked in instruction about comics and how one actually “breaks in” to them.
Artie and the Wolf Moon
GVN: Your first graphic novel is called Artie and the Wolf Moon. How did you come up with the concept for the book and who approached you originally about making a graphic novel?
OS: During my junior year at RISD, I was contacted by an editor in traditional publishing who had read my webcomic and liked it. The editor asked me if I had any interest in writing comics for kids. At that point, I’d never considered it. My webcomic and other projects had all been written for adults. But I also sensed that the market for kids’ comics was really blossoming. So, I decided to challenge myself and try putting together a pitch for a kids’ graphic novel in my final semester.
As I began, I thought about what stories really captivated me when I was younger. I’ve always loved stories that deal with family, supernatural creatures and having powers. It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly the concept came to me, because my brainstorming process is fairly organic. I usually go outside to take a walk and listen to music. Music gives me most of my ideas, at least indirectly.
I find myself inspired a lot by the tone or emotion in a song. Sometimes, the melody will evoke an image in my mind that gives birth to a whole story. I listened to a lot of “Iron & Wine” during my walks and eventually came to this idea of a girl dealing with her single parent being a werewolf. There was a moment I considered it being a werewolf dad but the idea of writing a mother werewolf really intrigued me. In part because I don’t get to see that as much as I want in stories.
GVN: Since your story does contain horror/monster type elements, were you attracted to the classic monster stories, i.e. Wolfman, Dracula and such when you were younger?
OS: I didn’t pay attention to the classics at all. My exposure to werewolves and vampires came mostly from popular films and TV from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Stuff like Twilight, MTV’s Teen Wolf and True Blood came along later. I think I fell in love with the basic premise of all these creatures, but I felt massively unfulfilled with the directions that the popular franchises took them. It’s something I say a lot but I really like watching bad shows about vampires and werewolves. I love to be a script doctor and pinpoint the parts that aren’t working, and figure out what I would change if I was writing it. That’s how a lot of stories are born, I think. You take the parts of things that you like and add in your own twists to change what you don’t.
GVN: Artie and the Wolf Moon is a wonderful story about family, love and trying to adapt to new surroundings. It just so happens to involve werewolves and vampires. How important was that connection and the family aspect to your story?
OS: The family aspect was always linked to my inclusion of werewolves because I wanted to explore a different avenue with their lore. Wolves are family-focused animals and their packs are comprised of parents and their offspring. I didn’t really want to write a werewolf story that painted werewolves as a threat to others. Or a story that perpetuated the idea that wolves are these vicious killing machines. Because they aren’t. Wolves stay together and defend their families. So I tried to shape my interpretation of werewolves and their culture to fit that model.
Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing
GVN: You are working with Graphic Universe and Lerner Publishing for “Artie.” How has that collaboration gone for you? Have you been surprised about any part of the whole book publishing process?
OS: I’ve had a great time working with Lerner. My editor, Greg Hunter, was an absolute dream to work with and helped make the book even better than I imagined. I owe an immense amount of gratitude to him and the rest of the Lerner team for their patience and investment in Artie’s story. The most surprising parts of book publishing have been all the other players involved along the way that help a book along. When I started, I was aware of the role of editors, designers, etc. But I’ve gained an immense respect for the sales reps, booksellers, publicity teams, reviewers, teachers and librarians. All of which are so generous with their resources and are ardent champions of the books that they love.
On Social Media
GVN: Thank you again for sharing your time with us, Olivia. Do you have any other projects upcoming you want to talk about and where can our fans go to follow you, social media wise?
OS: My pleasure, thanks for your questions! There’s a few things in the works that I can’t talk about in detail yet. I did get to write a limited fantasy series last year, which I’m really excited about. Other than the stuff under wraps, I’ve been tinkering with a couple of personal projects over on my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/oliveoilcorp
Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens comes out September 7th from Graphic Universe and Lerner Publishing.
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Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 17 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.