Arts Desk

Meet a Visiting Cartoonist: A Chat With George O’Connor

The Library of Congress' National Book Festival is happening on the Mall this Saturday and Sunday, with most cartoonists appearing on Sunday in the big new Graphic Novels tent. George O'Connor is sneaking in on Saturday, however, where he'll promote Journey into Mohawk Country, a historical graphic novel on an early Dutch explorer's travels in what became New York State

Washington City Paper: Why will you be in Washington?

George O'Connor: I’m in Washington for a couple of things. The School Library Journal is holding a Summit on Thursday and Friday, and I’m doing a presentation for the attendees on reading and graphic literature. I’m going to joined in this by two other very talented cartoonists, Jarrett Krosoczka and Eric Wight, and we’ll be creating a jam comic live in front of the crowd. It should be pretty fun. Then, on Saturday, I’ll be at the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival. My graphic novel Journey into Mohawk Country was chosen to represent New York at the Pavilion of the States this year, and I’ll be signing copies at the New York booth from 12:30 until 2.

WCP: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

G O'C: Tricky question—stylistically, I’m all over the place from project to project. If I had to define my work, really, I would say it’s a mostly idiosyncratic mix of stuff I’m interested in. And since most of the stuff I’m interested in is stuff I learned about when I was 12, I tend to make most of my comics for an all-age audience, or try to, at least.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

G O'C: I’m a combo man. I do all my black and white artwork the old-fashioned way—pencil, pen, brush and ink on Bristol paper. Then I scan it into my computer for touch-ups, corrections and coloring.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

G O'C: I was born in Long Island, New York in the 1970s.

WCP: Can you tell us a little about your book that you'll be in town signing?

G O'C: I’m going to be here for a couple of things, as mentioned above. For the SLJ Summit, I’ll be promoting my most recent book, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, which is the latest volume of my Greek Mythology graphic novel series Olympians (the previous volumes were Zeus: King of the Gods and Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess). Then on Saturday, I’ll be appearing in promotion of Journey into Mohawk Country.  The text of Mohawk Country was written in 1634 by a Dutch barber/surgeon named Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, and it’s a journal of the actual journey he made 100 miles into the interior of what would one day become NY state. None of his words were changed (except for being translated into English), I just made it into a comic. It’s pretty fascinating stuff.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

G O'C: Like many cartoonists, I suspect that much of my training was self-taught or on-the-job, but I did graduate from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a degree in Illustration.  I learned a lot of helpful things there, especially about drawing very fast.

WCP: Who are your influences?

G O'C: Some of my faves, in no particular order, are Mike Mignola,  P. Craig Russell,  Jaime Hernandez, Bill Watterson, Berkeley Breathed, and Walt Simonson.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?

G O'C: Huh! I tend not to dwell on the past like that, but if I could somehow take the confidence that I have in myself and my work now, and transpose it back in time to me when I was first starting out, well, that would be pretty sweet. That’s all part of the process of growing as a creator though, it would be kind of a cheat to skip it, like some sort of time paradox.

WCP: What work are you best known for?

G O'C: I’d have to say the Olympians series of Greek mythology graphic novels. Which is very rewarding, as they’ve been kind of a childhood dream come true.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

G O'C: The most recent volume of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory is, in my opinion, the strongest thing I’ve ever written. I feel like I passed through a new high watermark with that one. The next book in Olympians, Hades: Lord of the Dead is just as good, or maybe even better. Now the pressure is on to keep them at this level!

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

G O'C: I’m very lucky in that I have quite a bit of work already lined up in front of me for the immediate future—Olympians is projected to run for twelve volumes, and after a few years away I’ve recently signed up a couple of new picture books (about dinosaurs! Yeah!). I have a lot of ideas rattling around in my head, and, like always, they’re based on the things I like. I’m lucky to have a job that let’s me explore my interests like this.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

G O'C: I go for a walk, or a run, or a long, pointless subway ride. That normally clears it up.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

G O'C: I think the much-heralded looming digital revolution will be less of a revolution than it will be an addition to the way business is already done—it will just be another way for people to get their content; some folks will prefer digital, others printed.

Mainstream comics (meaning, mainly, superhero stuff from D.C. and Marvel) seems to be going through a crucial period right now—their actual readership is dwindling, as their properties become more and more well-known through other media, like movies and television. I expect we’ll see more creators accustomed to doing work-for-hire for the big two companies strike out and work on their own, creator-owned materials. It’s one thing to do work on a corporation’ characters, it’s another thing to do work on your own.

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