[UPDATED] Exclusive Interview: Comic Creator Katie O’Neill Talks About Her Work, Announces Next Project With Oni Press

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If you’re a fan of web comics, you’ve probably already seen Katie O’Neill’s work. Her latest hardcover collection Princess Princess Ever After (which I reviewed earlier this morning), started life as a web comic on her popular Tumblr. Today, O’Neill’s is announcing exclusively through TMS, her next original project with Oni Press!

Oni Press will be publishing a new, original graphic novel by O’Neill called The Tea Dragon Society! In it, a talented young blacksmith named Greta (pictured in the character study above) meets the head of The Tea Dragon Society, a small group who practice the lost art of tea dragon husbandry. So, what the heck are tea dragons? I don’t know, but with O’Neill drawing them, I bet they’re cute as hell.

Also cute as hell is the rest of this world! Oni Press has provided TMS with an exclusive first look at The Tea Dragon Society, which you can check out in the gallery below! [UPDATE at 4:45PM: in addition to the preview below, O’Neill has a website for The Tea Dragon Society, and will be posting a 5-page sneak peak on September 14.]

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Oni also gave us the opportunity of an exclusive interview with O’Neill about Princess Princess, The Tea Dragon Society, and what she hopes readers find in her work.

Teresa Jusino (TMS): Princess Princess Ever After was already a popular webcomic. Why is it important that it’s now been collected in hardcover, and why did you choose to partner with Oni Press?

Katie O’Neill: Webcomics are a wonderful medium that allows all kinds of stories to exist and be read freely, which is something that really motivates and excites me. However, there’s a different kind of accessibility and visibility that comes with a book, particularly one that is in easy reach of kids’ hands in school and public libraries, and in the children’s section of book stores. Princess Princess Ever After is a story I wish I’d had growing up, so accessibility for children is very important to me. Happily, I’ve also had lots of stories of older fans sharing the webcomic with their young relatives via tablets etc, which is really cool too.

When Oni Press reached out to me, I jumped at the chance to work with them. I’d heard that they’re very respectful of the creators and properties they work with, which I have found to absolutely be the case! It’s been amazing working with the whole team to bring this book out into the world, and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity.

TMS: Inclusiveness seems to be very important to you. What fueled your decision to not only create LGBTQIA characters in Princess Princess, but to also have characters of color in both that story and in the upcoming Tea Dragon Society? How, if at all, does that affect your story?

O’Neill: Inclusiveness is definitely very important to me, I feel it’s only natural that comics (and all media!) should reflect the diversity of the world around us. I try to do my part by supporting works and anthologies by a diverse range of creators, and portraying different identities while being aware of not writing something that I haven’t experienced and isn’t my story to tell. The most authentic stories about a particular identity can only come from those who have lived it. Instead, I try to look towards universal human experiences, emotions, problems and situations and base my story writing off those.

TMS: Since we’re announcing The Tea Dragon Society today, I’d love for you to briefly tell me in your own words what the basic plot is, and then tell me what inspired you to tell this particular story next?

O’Neill: The Tea Dragon Society is about a young blacksmith apprentice, Greta, who is learning her craft but isn’t entirely sure what use it has in modern society. When she encounters a tea dragon and becomes closer to those who raise them and grow their tea, she learns about the dying art form and how it enriches the lives of those she meets—and eventually her own. With the experiences and the memories she makes, she begins to wonder if there’s a value in craft all of its own.

The idea definitely started with the Tea Dragons themselves, and then developing ideas about their lore and husbandry, and then wondering who would go to such lengths for a good cup of tea? 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.

TMS: I’ve been falling more and more in love with all-ages comics lately. What do you think is important about the existence of quality, all-ages stories? What do you enjoy about telling stories that can be read by younger readers? What do you hope they get out of your stories?

O’Neill: I think all-ages comics have a magic and charm that lies in being able to come back to them over and over again, in different stages throughout your life, taking away something different. I think when you read and love something as a child, reading it again as an adult will always take you back to that moment in your childhood, and hopefully, help you remember what made you happy then.

As much as I do have themes and ideas that I’d like to convey with my stories, the bottom line is that I hope younger readers enjoy them! I hope they laugh at my jokes and love the characters, and maybe be inspired to write their own stories and adventures one day. Both of these books have strong LGBTQIA themes, so I do also hope they help normalise all kinds of family dynamics and personal identities for kids just starting to figure things out.

TMS: I always marvel at people who both write and draw their own stories, as I’m a writer who can only draw stick figures! Do you consider yourself an artist first? A writer first? Or are you always both?

O’Neill: I find it pretty hard to un-link the two! Whenever I sit down to do some doodles in my sketchbook, it always ends up with me constructing little stories in my head about the subject or place I’m drawing. Likewise, when I write prose, I write so visually that I might as well draw it anyway. Though recently I’ve been more interested in drawing for its own sake (like landscapes, patterns, freestanding illustrations), I still like for it to be connected to a larger narrative, theme, idea or purpose.

TMS: Tell me why you think comics fans should pick up The Tea Dragon Society when it comes out? Who do you think will love this book?

O’Neill: The Tea Dragon Society is an absolute labour of love for me, and I’m so happy to have poured as much of my interests in as possible into one story. I feel the most pride when I create a story where I want to introduce the characters to everyone like a member of the family, to watch and see how people will react to certain moments and developments, and that’s absolutely what this book is to me. It’s a very warm and comforting story, I think that anyone who loves Ghibli films, Animal Crossing games or slice-of-life stories will feel at home with The Tea Dragon Society.


Princess Princess Ever After is out in hardcover now. The Tea Dragon Society is set for release in November 2017. 

(image via Oni Press)

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.