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A therapeutic vehicle of fiction: Olivia Stephens on 'Artie and the Wolf Moon'

Comic Books

A therapeutic vehicle of fiction: Olivia Stephens on ‘Artie and the Wolf Moon’

A poignant new YA graphic novel about family, change, and lycanthropes.

Next week (September 7), writer Olivia Stephens will debut her very first published work with Artie and the Wolf Moon. Released via Graphic Universe (an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), it’s a gripping story about family, joining a new community, and werewolves. Like growing up wasn’t complicated enough.

The original graphic novel focuses on Artie finding out that she comes from a family of werewolves. From there, she learns all about her heritage as a werewolf, as well as about her late father before moving to a new town, developing a crush on a new friend, and discovering there are scarier things than werewolves.

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We spoke with Stephens ahead of release day to discuss her work, the relationships developed in the narrative, and much, much more.

AIPT: When it comes to werewolf lore, how deep did you research before diving in?

Olivia Stephens: I didn’t actually research werewolf lore as much as wolf behavior in the wild. Real wolves are very different from how they are portrayed in a lot of American fiction, and they’ve gained this reputation of viciousness that is largely unearned. When looking into how wolves actually behave and organize themselves, you uncover a very family-oriented animal that plays an integral part in maintaining the balance of ecosystems. So I modeled my approach after that. The book’s werewolves aren’t actually written to be scary. They reflect a family that works together and loves you for everything that you are.

AIPT: How long has Artie and the Wolf Moon been in the works?

OS: About four years now! I started developing the story pitch back in early 2017 during my final year of art school, and I started writing the script in the spring of 2018 after signing with Lerner Books to publish it.

AIPT: The relationship between Artie and her mother, Loretta. What drew you to writing a mother-daughter relationship in Artie and the Wolf Moon?

OS: There was a brief point at the very beginning where I was thinking that the central relationship would be between a girl and her father. But when I considered a mother-daughter relationship instead, I was instantly excited by it. Part of it is that I really don’t get to see mothers as an active part of werewolf stories as much as I want to. I guess I’m also a little tired of how popular werewolf stories are overwhelmingly centered on men, with maybe one or two women in a pack as minor characters. It bores me. So I decided to focus on a mother-daughter relationship with Artie and Loretta to depart from that. And as a result, I ended up building the book’s larger werewolf mythology off of motherhood and recognizing our maternal counterparts in nature.

Olivia Stephens’ YA Graphic Novel 'Artie and the Wolf Moon'

Courtesy of Lerner.

AIPT: What do you think draws us towards telling lived experiences of identity, such as race and sexuality through the vehicle of myth and legend?

OS: Speaking for myself, it’s not about myth and legend, but the therapeutic vehicle of fiction. Fiction allows me to create a buffer between myself and difficult emotions or experiences that I might want to work through. And most of the time I don’t want to regurgitate those experiences in exact detail. So instead, I try to extract the raw emotion and channel it elsewhere. I am writing from a real place emotionally, but it’s not my story.

I think that myth and legend factors into writing for me because I’m an incredibly sensitive person and my emotions often feel too large to contain inside of myself. So writing about people who have powers beyond what their body can contain is an intriguing and empowering concept.

AIPT: Artie and the Wolf Moon is an incredibly compelling coming-of-age story. Did you base the story of Artie on any of your own experiences? Or the experiences of others?

OS: Outside of being a queer Black girl in the Pacific Northwest, Artie’s life doesn’t actually resemble mine at all. I didn’t grow up in a single-parent household and I’m not a werewolf. That’s what excites me as a writer. Trying to articulate things that are outside of my direct experiences. It’s about harnessing empathy so that I can capture the root of these emotions that drive all of us. So if others find Artie’s story compelling or relatable, I consider that a success on my part as a fiction writer. Because we live very different lives.

Artie and the Wolf Moon

Courtesy of Lerner.

AIPT: Do you have any favorite werewolf stories be it books, folklore, or even movies?

OS: Currently, my favorite werewolf movie is Good Manners. My favorite guilty pleasure is the MTV Teen Wolf television series.

AIPT: The vampire/werewolf genre was incredibly popular from the late 2000s, through to the mid-2010s. However, it was defined by very white, heterosexual sensibilities, that steered these literary symbols towards conservative storytelling. Do you think the genre has since transformed?

OS: Genre fiction has been transforming since before I was born. I think that it’s a matter of what stories are being funded, elevated and given priority. Vampires and werewolves written through a Black queer lens is not new, at all. The Gilda Stories were written by Jewelle Gomez in 1991, and focus on a queer Black woman escaping slavery in 1850 and then spending the next 200 years traversing a changing American landscape. We have been here, telling our stories and contributing to the genre. What needs to be interrogated is why these stories fall through the cracks while publishers fixate on building up multiple major franchises with vampire main characters (and love interests) who owned slaves or fought for the Confederacy. Alternative viewpoints (like The Gilda Stories) have already been written and are still being written, even if they aren’t the books eagerly pushed in front of us. So who is defining the genre for us? Why are we still letting them?

Olivia Stephens’ YA Graphic Novel 'Artie and the Wolf Moon'

Courtesy of Lerner.

AIPT: Do you have any other projects or places fans can find your work?

OS: Yes! Earlier in the year, I released a short werewolf western comic called Darlin’ over on Gumroad. It’s geared towards adults and takes werewolves in a very different direction than Artie. There are a couple of other projects coming up that I can’t talk about yet, but I’m always tinkering with personal work over on my Patreon. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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