If you’re not familiar with the name Molly Ostertag you should be! She’s been working on some pretty great projects recently including the on-going webcomic Strong Female Protaganist, graphic novel Shattered Warrior with Sharon Shinn, Disney XD series Star vs. The Forces of Evil, and her upcoming graphic novel The Witch Boy from Scholastic, which she both wrote and illustrated.
Pretty awesome, right? After reading an early copy of The Witch Boy I fell in love with her artwork and I’ve been eagerly catching up on her other books ever since.
The second of Molly’s books that I read was Shattered Warrior, a graphic novel she worked on with romance novelist Sharon Shinn. The book was published this spring by First Second and it’s an amazing read. It follows a young woman named Colleen who lives in a harsh, fictional world occupied by oppressive aliens.
As we follow her journey we see Colleen grow from a resigned, almost defeated individual to someone with a renewed hope and something worth fighting for. Plus there’s a good dose of romance thrown in, too.
I had a chance to sit down with Molly at SDCC 2017 to talk about Shattered Warrior. She told us a lot about the origins of the project, how she got involved, and what it was like adapting Sharon Shinn’s original story into a graphic novel.
We also talked a little bit about her upcoming book, The Witch Boy, and what it’s like to go from working with a writer on a book like Shattered Warrior to writing something wholly your own.
Don’t worry if you haven’t read Shattered Warrior yet! This interview is essentially spoiler-free.
How did you initially get involved with Shattered Warrior?
Molly Ostertag: So, I went to art school at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and First Second was very much the cool publisher. When I was in school I was like, “OMG! They’re making the kind of books that I want to make!” That I imagined making. [Books] that I couldn’t quite see that anyone else was. So I was very excited to get involved with them!
I just sold myself really hard to the editor while I was in school. And almost as soon as I graduated – like a couple weeks later – Mark Siegel wrote to me and had me test on Shattered Warrior.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
MO: Sharon Shinn who is a romance novelist… [Mark] read her books and wanted to do a comic with her. So, he reached out to her and she sent a first draft of a novel that she had never followed through on – [which] I learned recently from doing an interview with her. She had it sort of sitting around and always wanted to do something but hadn’t quite turned it into a book.
That is what I got. Read that. Tested with some sample pages and character designs. And then, once I got it, I adapted that novel into a script which is like a lot of cutting and plot rearranging. Like, simplifying certain things because you need to do that to make a novel into a graphic novel. It was a lot of back and forth [and] it was a pretty long process of creating a final script.
Can you tell us a little bit about what Shattered Warrior is about?
MO: Sure! Shattered Warrior is a science fiction, sort-of-dystopian book about a world that’s different from ours, but similar in some ways, that’s been taken over by aliens. It’s about the human resistance to this and how people survive in this sort of colonized, dystopian city. And it’s about love and romance and a rekindling of hope.
Was it challenging coming up with character designs for the book? Since it’s a sci-fi book I would think you’ve really got to imagine things from scratch.
MO: We had a pretty fun time with that aspect of it – with the visuals and like designing the world. I was living in New York at the time and I was kind of trying to make it look like a very ruined part of New York City. If parts of New York were really ruined.
We had a lot of back and forth on Colleen – the main character. It’s funny because I think she’s a more classic romance novel character. And she’s very feminine in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me like personally. Like, usually I make characters who are not quite so feminine because I don’t understand it as well. So that was an interesting challenge trying to lean into this aesthetic that’s not quite as natural for me. I think like artistically and personally I tend towards androgyny.
How did the collaboration process go when it came to designing the characters since they were coming from this sort of unwritten novel?
MO: [Sharon] had a pretty clear description of everyone. She sent me the full novel and then like lengthy descriptions of both of the groups. She had a pretty fair idea of what most people looked like. Especially the aliens. That was like really, really clear.
So, the Chromatti, who are the rebels, and the Derichet, who are the aliens, that was a pretty quick. I read [the descriptions], I drew it, and she was like yep that is what I wrote! And then with our main characters I think we were just trying to figure out the perfect kind of character.
Was there any particular sci-fi series or anything else that you looked to for inspiration in creating and designing your world?
MO: I didn’t really draw on any other pre-established, pre-written things. Like I said, I was inspired by kind of New York architecture. I like drawing architecture but I like drawing it crumbling. It kind of has that organic element to it so I really enjoyed drawing that dystopian city.
It was just like a selection of mostly real world influences that I wanted to fit into one world. So there’s a lot of Moroccan inspired architecture because I was just really into that at the time. I like to pull in a lot of different cultures. I tried to make it look like – I guess, a lot of fantasy and sci-fi seem to try and map on to one specific Earth culture so I tried to not do that.
You’ve got another book coming out this fall that you both wrote and illustrated. What are some of the differences or challenges in doing artwork for a book and working with someone else versus handling the whole project yourself?
MO: The book that’s coming out this fall is called the Witch Boy and it’s coming out from Scholastic. That one I wrote and drew – and that was my first long project that I had written and drawn. And I found it really pleasant to do that.
I’ve worked with a good amount of different writers and it’s always really interesting. I really enjoy getting to work with people who spend so much time thinking about story and thinking about writing because I definitely split my brain between that and art.
And I think that it always pushes me to draw things that I wouldn’t draw necessarily. Sometimes [it] can be difficult in that they want you to draw something that you are not maybe good at or that’s interesting. I always say that I’m not good at drawing things but I think it’s more that I’m less interested in learning to draw them.
It was nice to do a book that I had written because I only wrote things that I wanted to draw. It was a very seamless process… I really enjoyed drawing my own book. I’m sure it can be limiting too but since it was the first time I had done something like that it was a very freeing experience.
Are you working on anything else besides the Witch Boy?
MO: I am. I can’t say! I can’t say but I am working on stuff.
I want to make a lot of books and I will make a lot of books! I’m really excited about writing right now. I feel like I’ve spent a fair amount of time becoming a decent artist and I’m trying to pivot a bit more and really focus on my writing. I’m comfortable with where my art is now. It can tell the kind of stories I want to tell. So, I really want to learn how to write a really good story. So that’s my goal now.
What are your thoughts on the current influx of young adult and middle grade graphic novels?
MO: I think it’s really good. You know I have no interest in monthly comics. I guess I just don’t understand why you would choose to tell a story in that format. Not to be controversial – I know that I’m wrong because lots of people like them – but for me as a reader I want to read a story all at once. I don’t want to read it in like 23 page chunks every month… I don’t want to lose interest or lose the thread of the plot – so I love that these self-contained graphic novels and graphic novel series are coming out because they’re so good for kids.
They’re so good for kids who are like having trouble reading or like aren’t into books but they get into graphic novels – and then they get into books. And kids care so much about stories. They can be influenced by them in a way… I think that kids are a little more malleable and are still looking for stories that will help them grow and find who they are. So it’s extremely exciting to think about those stories being comics and to get to be a part of it.
It’s also good because it’s just mostly stuff for girls. Comics have just not been for girls for so long and people like to really demonize anything that teenage girls or young girls like… And it’s just so nice that graphic novels are mostly dominated by stuff for young women because they deserve it. They deserve everything!