Ingram Blog

Meet Graphic Novelist Katie O’Neill

The award winning author Katie O’Neill is back with her latest young adult graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society expected October 31, 2017. This charming novel follows Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, in an enchanting world of tea dragons.

After finding a lost tea dragon and befriending Hesekiel and Erik, Greta discovers the dying art form of tea dragon care. Through unexpected turns, finding patience, and she quickly enriches realizeds the impact that this craft has on their lives, as well as her own.

With only a few months before the novel’s release, Katie discusses her inspiration and creative process for this story.

Q: Can you give a little insight into your design process? What usually comes first, the story or the art?
  A: A lot of my stories recently, including The Tea Dragon Society, have sprung from doodling creatures and then imagining how they might fit into a world, and the characters who might interact with them. There’s always a few elements like main characters or important places that arrive mostly formed onto the sketchbook, but once I start to formally flesh out the story I end up with a shopping list of supplementary places and people that need to be designed. It’s really fun working that way! You get a balance of spontaneous design, as well as research and development that helps you consciously choose the visual direction you want to take the project in.

 

Overall I do about 90% of my work on an art tablet and my computer, but the parts that I do in my sketchbook are very important in terms of just getting a bunch of ideas out at the early stages. For me, the sketchbook is the easiest way to brainstorm a ton of different concepts and let the ideas flow.

Q: What was the inspiration behind The Tea Dragon Society?
A: I drew the Tea Dragons on a whim and posted them online, and ended up receiving a number of questions about them and how they work. I had so much fun answering them and coming up with the lore, I knew I wanted to flesh the concept out into an entire story!

Q: How did you go about deciding what kind of tea would be associated with each dragon?
A: Rather than matching the tea to the dragon, I tried to match the tea to the personality of the owner. Hesekiel is very refined and elegant, which always makes me think of delicate Jasmine tea. By contrast, Erik is strong and hearty and warm, like Rooibos. Minette is very gentle and sweet, like Chamomile. Greta was a bit tougher to decide, but I ended up going with Ginseng, which I feel has a strong energy and vitality.

Q: Which character do you relate to the most?
A: I think probably Greta - the scene where she worries she’s taken too long to respond to Hesekiel’s invitation was rather true to life. She’s also very sincere and not afraid to show how much she likes and values her friends.

 

Q: How did you decide on blacksmithing and tea-making as the core skills in Greta’s life?
A: For me, the tea-making was always going to be an essential part of the story, and I thought that blacksmithing was very compatible. In blacksmithing, you can create the tools and instruments used to brew tea finely, and they’re both domestic skills that use fire and hearths. It also provided a nice contrast - Greta is a physically strong person, and blacksmithing is very active and energetic compared to tea ceremonies which are more relaxed and reserved. 

Q: In the story, Greta is met with the challenge of continuing to practice arts that are slowly becoming obsolete, was this a conflict you wanted to tackle from the beginning or did it develop organically?
A: I think a little bit of both. It developed quite early on- as soon as I realized how difficult a Tea Dragon would be to take care of, it reminded me of old techniques such as letterpress printing that are still enjoyed by dedicated practitioners, but very much faded from their heydays. I think it’s really important to preserve these and keep the knowledge alive, and not just in a historical sense. Having worked in a letterpress workshop and seen how excited kids get about the presses and inks and designs, they’re so passionate and have such interesting ideas that will naturally keep the practice flourishing if given the encouragement.

Q: Your story has already been described as a “lovely celebration of kindness, patience, friendship, and tradition,” why were these important characteristics for you to incorporate into this story?
A: I wanted to make a book that readers could take a quiet strength from, that would make them feel happier if they’re down, and give them a break from life if they need it. Similar to taking the time to sit with a cup of tea on a stressful day. I’m very interested in the idea of stories as a kind of therapy and alleviation, and how they can improve people’s mood or develop a positive perspective on life.

Interested in the full story? Pre order The Tea Dragon Society on ipage!

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This interview was conducted by Ashley Kronsberg from Diamond Comic Distributors.