Storytelling Is Not Dead: Interview Ten – Molly Knox Ostertag

Please check out my previous Storytelling posts here.  And my 365 Reviews here.

Welcome to interview ten!  This is a special one; yesterday I reviewed The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch from Molly Knox Ostertag, and today I’m bringing you a special interview with Molly for my celebration of Teen Read Week!

Me: Your graphic novel work is fantastic.  I love the stories that you tell.  What is it about the graphic novel medium that makes it such a fantastic way to tell a story?

MKO:  I love visual storytelling, because of the gut-level emotional impact an image can have, as well as the way visual details can add subtle layers to a story.  I also love prose, which lets the reader choose their pace through the story; readers choose whether to race through a book to get to the end, or to take their time, lingering in the world.  Comics marry these two things in a way that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of!  You can read a comic quickly and get the plot, or you can take your time, noticing the subtle facial expressions and background details that tell a richer story.  I loved to reread books when I was a kid and always wished I could discover new words on my rereads; I didn’t want the story to change, I just wanted more details.  I think comics deliver on that wish.

Me: So who are a few of your biggest influences?

MKO: Mariko Tamaki, Raina Telgemeier, and Emily Carroll are some of my comics heroes.  Tamora Pierce, Susanna Clarke, JK Rowling, and Diane Wynne Jones have written some of my favorite prose.  And I’m pretty sure The Lord of the Rings and Studio Ghibli movies are etched into my creative DNA.  I’m also very influenced by the way stories unfold in tabletop roleplaying games and LARPs!

Me: Nice!  I’m also a big believer in the storytelling of games.  If you could work with one artist or writer, living or dead, whom would it be and why?

MKO: I would love to shadow Hayao Miyazaki while he was working on a movie and see how he makes decisions.

Me: The thematic subtlety in The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch is amazing.  It’s not “one the nose” or heavy-handed at all.  It’s natural.  Can you talk a little about how you achieve such a wonderful delivery of the themes of self-value and acceptance?

MKO: I’m very interested in telling stories that have a meaning and that have the potential to affect the reader in a positive way.  I know that stories have helped me become a better, more empathetic person.  However, some media meant for children comes across as moralistic in kind of a clunky way.  I wanted to use magic as a metaphor to explore themes of gender identity and acceptance – while also really enjoying the fun of having magic in a story! – but I wanted to respect the intelligence of my readers.  Kids are REALLY smart and, as I’ve said, reread books a lot…so I’m comfortable keeping the themes subtle and knowing that when the reader is ready to understand them, they will.

Me: Very well said.  And I love the cast of characters that develops by the end of The Hidden Witch!  Can you speak a little about your favorite character from the series thus far and the creation process of that character?

MKO: Thank you!  By the end of The Hidden Witch there’s a little band of four that’s started to form.  I had trouble finding friends when I was younger, like lots of people, and the idea of a close knit friend group is its own kind of fantasy.  I have also been using these books to explore themes of queer identity, and something that’s very important to that is finding people who see you as you are – a found family.  We start to see that at the end of The Hidden Witch.

As for a favorite character, I really can’t choose.  Aster is very close to my heart; in a lot of ways he’s like a more mature and kind version of myself when I was young.  Charlie is more similar to me now, or at least how I try to be, and Ariel is my favorite one to draw because of her goth tween fashion sense.  Sedge is just fun!

Me: Finally, do you have any advice for young graphic novelists looking to take their passion for the medium to the next level?

MKO: Cultivate your interests!  Read graphic novels but also read novels, and nonfiction, and watch movies and TV, and go to art museums, and always keep an eye out for what you like and why.  Don’t be a passive consumer of media, but really notice what works and what doesn’t and what you’d change if you were in charge.  This will help you not just be a mimic of the people around you, but be a true artistic voice.  Also, get at least one hobby that doesn’t have to do with comics, and don’t pull all nighters!

Wow…that was awesome!  I want to thank Molly Knox Ostertag for her time and insight.  I think our takeaway from this interview is that we should be well-rounded consumers.  I love the idea of experiencing bunches of art and deciding what you’d change if it were you.  Very similar to what Chef David Park had to say about his craft…pretty smart, these creative folk!

Happy Storytelling!

Eric

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