Young Adult graphic novels usually consist of coming of age stories, but most of the protagonists in those stories do not exhibit this transformation by growing fur and howling at the moon.
Olivia Stephen’s main character Artie from Artie and the Wolf Moon goes through this type of monster movie transformation, but she also contends with what it is like to be the outsider and the legacy of her family’s mysterious past.
We got a chance to speak to Stephens about her debut graphic novel in this exclusive interview.
What are the origins of Artie and the Wolf Moon?
Olivia Stephens: I came up with the premise for Artie in my final year of art school when trying to develop a kids’ graphic novel pitch that I could send out to editors after graduation. It came to me after thinking about the different things I loved in stories as a child, like supernatural creatures, discovering new powers, and family secrets. I decided to take a familiar cryptid like the werewolf and approach it differently than what I’d seen done before.
Although the title and characters resemble those from the horror genre, your story also has many superhero tropes, especially with the hero “coming of age” scenes and learning about her powers. Do you see it as a blend of these genres (and others)?
Stephens: A little bit, for sure! As a kid, I really loved the scenes in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man where Peter takes his first awkward steps with his new abilities. But I’m also heavily influenced by shonen manga, and wanted to emulate the way shonen heroes first interact with new powers. And it was important to me for there to be a blend of genres in the book– horror, drama, and even a little romance. I wanted there to be a little bit of something for everyone.
You present a unique view of the legend of the werewolf in Artie and the Wolf Moon. How did you come up with the lore?
Stephens: I modeled the lore after Artie’s relationship with her mother Loretta, which is a central part of the book. The book has several cycles that are repeating, one of which is the act of a mother protecting her children. So the first werewolf to lead Artie’s clan was a human mother who escaped slavery with her children and later encountered a wolf-mother during the journey. The mothers see each other as equals trying to do the best for their children and a bond is forged between them, which leads to the human family being gifted with the ability to transform. I designed it to tie in loosely with Artie and Loretta’s journey in the present, where they are also seeking out support and community within the woods.
There’s also a bit of “werewolf folk art” present in the story via blankets, murals and clothing. I took a lot of inspiration from artists like Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence, as well as the quilts of Harriet Powers. Powers was a Black folk artist born into slavery, who used quilts to depict local legends and Bible stories. I expanded on this idea for the book, where characters use the quilts to teach Artie (and the reader) about her werewolf heritage.
Photographs and capturing moments in time through photography is a recurring motif in the story. How does it help to guide/frame the story?
Stephens: Photography is the link between Artie and the father she never met. By reaching into the past, the photos provide forward momentum for Artie to find out exactly who she is.
Almost every chapter of the book begins with a photograph relevant to its contents. The idea behind this was Artie using these images to annotate her own journey. They also serve as a collection of “family photos” for Artie as her community begins to grow.
You set up the battle between werewolves and vampires in a unique fashion, but why do you think writers and filmmakers always position these two monsters in opposition to each other?
Stephens: I think it’s the nature of lore and storytelling. Someone introduces a new piece of lore to the table, and others either reject it or incorporate it into their own iterations. Nosferatu started the idea of vampires dying from sunlight and it’s since taken off as a ubiquitous staple of the vampire genre. Personally, I find werewolves and vampires to be an excellent conflict because in many ways they feel like polar opposites to each other. For me, werewolves have a direct connection to nature, earth and life cycles. Vampires often deviate from the laws of nature. They exist as creatures who are divorced from the cycle of life and death entirely.
What’s your favorite werewolf movie?
Stephens: Good Manners.
Stephens: Nothing that I can publicly talk about yet! But I’m always tinkering with projects behind the scenes over on my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/oliveoilcorp
Graphic Universe (Lerner) will publish Olivia Stephens’s Artie and the Wolf Moon on September 7, 2021.