Katie O’Neill creates engaging, inclusive comics with a beautiful, deft hand. Among other creative works, she is well-known for her graphic novel Princess Princess Ever After, a sweet and funny fairy tale in which two princesses go on adventures and develop feelings for one another. She now delights fans with a weekly webcomic that premiered in September of 2016, The Tea Dragon Society. Once complete, the story will be published as a graphic novel by Oni Press. I interviewed the talented O’Neill and asked her to share some inspirations and reflections.
Your work often involves the creation of new fairy tales and mythologies. Can you share some folktales, stories, and/or mythologies that influenced you or made a strong impression on you, both as a child and as an adult artist?
Growing up, I was pretty into any folklore or mythology that revolved around creatures or spirits. Anything from the daemon of Phillip Pullman’s work to the magical Clow Card spirits of Card Captor Sakura by CLAMP totally drew me in and made me draw and imagine my own world of spirits. I was always especially fascinated by the idea of having a bond with a creature – it’s kind of weird to think of Pokémon as a mythology, but it really is! Those kinds of stories probably had the biggest influence on me as a child and young teen reader.
As an adult, I would say I’m most interested in the mythologies and folktales being created by fellow webcomic artists! People are weaving such incredible stories, and in the process sharing their cultural background, experience, and knowledge. As someone who as a child was mostly exposed to very Euro-centric folktales, it’s really wonderful to be able to read stories that come from a different perspective. I would definitely recommend Witchy by Ariel Ries and The World in Deeper Inspection by Reimena Yee as examples.
I also asked O’Neill to share a glimpse of ‘The Tea Dragon Society’ plot…
The main character is Greta, a young blacksmith apprentice who isn’t sure why she’s learning a skill that has been mostly obsolete for years – but she has a desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps regardless. When she comes across an injured tea dragon in town one day, she finds herself drawn into a country tea shop where caring for tea dragons and raising their tea leaves is a matter of pride and love. She excitedly agrees to learn more about looking after them and encounters a mysterious girl her own age who seems to have a tea dragon as well.
…and whom she considers her audience:
I think anyone like me who has always had a fascination for creature-based lore. It’s also a very gentle comic with positive messages about day-to-day life, so people who like games such as Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley will probably also enjoy it. It’s written for middle-grade readers, but I hope that people of all ages will find something in the themes, characters, and very high-maintenance dragons to relate to.
Your work is extremely inclusive of diverse LGBTQIA characters and themes. Please describe the culture you hope to create and promote through your comics. What effect does writing inclusive stories have on you personally?
I’m really thankful to be working with a publisher who supports LGBTQIA content, and the idea that someday a kid might take a book off the library shelf and find a character who makes them feel like what they’re experiencing is normal and okay is very important to me. Thankfully that’s becoming more and more common for YA and teen books, but there’s still some way to go in terms of children’s literature. Personally, it’s reflective of the world I want to be part of where young people of any identity feel comfortable, safe and loved.
In an interview on The Mary Sue, O’Neill shared that, “keeping traditions and crafts alive is also very important to me, and in making a children’s graphic novel I hoped kids would start thinking about the different crafts they encounter in their lives that they could play a part in keeping modern and thriving.”
Katie O’Neill is certainly doing her part to keep the traditions of drawing, writing, and building community through storytelling alive. A new Tea Dragon Society page is available for free every Sunday evening (PST). You can keep up with the wonderful world of Katie O’Neill’s imagination and art on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram as well @strangelykatie.