George O’Connor has been producing the Olympians line of graphic novels from First Second for a number of years now, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading them for the past four years, roughly. He’s produced eight volumes, and this week the ninth installment drops in a series where each book focuses on a particular member of the house of Olympus and brings the myths alive in familial fighting and tooth and claw brawls for a new generation.
It doesn’t take more than reading a few lines of one of O’Connor’s Olympians books to become aware of the serious research he has done in order to craft them. The truly impressive achievement of harmonizing all the different possible stories that he could tell about these characters and choosing how to present them to the reader is visible at every turn. This stands alongside his uncanny ability as an artist to move from humor to pathos, from rage to laughter, in any given panel to suit the deep range of the source material. He also uses a really appealing light and emotive color palette that places the books firmly in a comics tradition but also helps create a feeling of adventure.
The books he’s created so far include: Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and Ares. This week Artemis: Goddess of the Hunt arrives. Of these volumes, my favorites have been Hades and Ares, the latter of which prompted a full-on Ares pin-up competition among cartoonists on line to celebrate the launch. The appeal of Greek mythology is the definition of universal, but O’Connor really showed that in action when he prompted the Ares pin-ups from all and sundry.
Artemis may rival my previous favorites in this line. By O’Connor’s account in a missive in the back of this volume, Artemis has been one of his favorite characters to work with, having left his personal favorites for later in the line of books to build up his artistic anticipation. Artemis, also known as Diana in Roman mythology, is the goddess of the hunt and wild places, and this book gives O’Connor full reign to tell her exuberant story of choosing her own path in life and remaining separate from social expectations (yes, even the Olympians have social expectations), for instance refusing to marry or have children. An archer with unwavering aim, a long-distance runner like no other, and surrounded by an entourage of young women and nymphs, Artemis carves her way through this book like the force of nature that she is.
Her story contains many emotionally engaging elements that O’Connor doesn’t edit out or make a little happier just for the sake of remaining upbeat. We learn of Artemis’ mother Leto’s exile in the wilderness during childbirth, the terrible conditions of her early childhood, and the struggles she faces later in life when she has to decide for herself whether to uphold her childhood vow not to marry. These books are no candy-coated fairy tales, either—O’Connor includes the harsher behavior of these gods who are not mortals, after all—like Artemis and her brother Apollo’s revenge on Queen Niobe of Thebes for slighting their mother Leto. Like Artemis dealing with threats to the family in unsentimental and highly effective fashion.
The way in which O’Connor structures the story of Artemis makes for a great read for younger and adult readers. He tells the story primarily in the first person narrator’s voice, but those narrators shift through smaller episodes orbiting the title character. We hear some of Artemis’ life story through the narrative of her mother, Leto. Some through the narrative of her brother, Apollo. Some even through the eyes of her father’s jaded wife, Hera. The reader gets to “watch” Artemis through the observation of others, creating a complicated web of personality that is often greatly enhanced by details of the artwork, like the curve of her smile or her body language in reaction to conflicts or challenges.
Appropriate to a tale of Artemis, O’Connor also brings in a respect and sense of awe in response to the natural world, a message which is inherent in the mythology but makes for an excellent reminder of the spirit of these tales and just how much they can re-teach us today.
Artemis makes for an emotional, fun, and meaningful read, and like the other Olympian books, it contains accessible reference material about the Olympians, and plenty of little extra details that add to the quality of the experience.
Whether you’d like to share this book with the young people in your life, or are simply a fan of classic stories and mythology, the Olympians series is waiting for you. Look out for Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt in shops the first week of February and meet a real goddess for the first time.
Find out more about all the Olympians books here at First Second.
Check out George O’Connor’s brand new website right here, where you can find out places to buy Artemis and also learn about several events connected to the launch of the book in February. If you sign up for his mailing list, he’s also giving out PDFs of some of the Olympians books as a reward.