The following is an interview with Stephanie Cooke regarding the upcoming release of the graphic novel, Oh My Gods!, from HMH Kids. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Cooke about the shared creative process of working with co-writer Insha Fitzpatrick and illustrator Juliana Moon, the impact that the story may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your middle grade graphic novel! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the book’s premise?
Stephanie Cooke: Thank you! We’re so excited to tell this story. Oh My Gods! is the story of a young girl named Karen who moves in with her father to get to know him better after living pretty far away from him for most of her life. When she arrives, she finds herself residing in the Mt. Olympus and has to adjust to her new life there, which also means attending junior high amongst gods and goddesses. When students start mysteriously turning to stone shortly after Karen arrives, she teams up with her new friends to try to clear her name and put a stop to it.
BD: What inspired you to tell this story alongside co-writer Insha Fitzpatrick and illustrator Juliana Moon, and how would you describe your shared creative process?
SC: Insha and I have been friends for a while now, and one day when we were having a moment of excitement over our shared love for Greek Mythology, we started spitballing a story idea that eventually became Oh My Gods! It started as sort of a hair-brained scheme like “What if we mixed Clone High with Lumberjanes and our love of Greek Mythology…” and kept growing and growing. We knew that there was something there that we wanted to share with people. Insha and I built the world, story, and characters together. Insha really brought the characters to life through Spotify playlists and Pinterest boards to give us a sense of who they were as people. We outlined heavily together, and then I scripted the story loosely. We then went in and did a lot of the dialogue together. Juliana came on board early on after Insha and I had written the first issue of the story. (We originally were pitching it for comic publishers.) Juliana was super excited about the story, too, and her enthusiasm for it and the characters made it clear that she was exactly who we wanted to have on board for the art. HMH Kids brought the amazing Whitney Cogar on board to do the colours for the book.
BD: As this will be the first in a series of graphic novels, what should readers anticipate in terms of the future adventures in Karen’s story?
SC: Yes! So far we have one other Oh My Gods! book planned for release in January 2022 called The Forgotten Maze, but we do hope to do more stories in the future. We have so many ideas planned for the world and the characters, and there’s so much to explore. While Karen is definitely a focal point for the first two books, we really want to introduce our readers to more characters and share their stories too.
BD: Fanbase Press’ #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Oh My Gods!’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
SC: Insha and I explored a lot of themes that were deeply personal to our experiences and tried to portray a lot of those struggles alongside a little bit more of a lighthearted story. While I think there’s maybe a little less drama than you might expect from a coming-of-age type mythology story, I hope that it still hits home by blending fantasy with the reality of what it’s like to uproot your life, to feel out of place, to feel lonely, and to have people there for you to help you through those struggles.
BD: What makes HMH Kids the perfect home for this graphic novel series?
SC: HMH Kids has been incredible to work with, and I couldn’t imagine having this story come to life in the hands of any other team. Our editor Lily Kessinger helped us get our concept from its original state to its wonderful final form with brilliant, constructive feedback and by asking questions that we hadn’t even thought to ask. Andrea Miller was our book designer, art director, and letterer on the book (and also launched the Etch graphic novel imprint at HMH because they’re fabulous). Lily and Andy put so much love and energy into the book and shared our overall excitement for it. To me, it’s as much their book as it is ours and we couldn’t have done it without them. Everyone has been so wildly supportive!
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
SC: Yes! I have my solo writing debut out in July (also from HMH Kids) called ParaNorthern (with art by Mari Costa). Then, Oh My Gods! 2: The Forgotten Maze is out next January 2022. And in 2023, I have my first YA graphic novel out (again, with HMH), and that one is called Pillow Talk (with art by Mel Valentine). I’m so excited about each and can’t wait for people to be able to read them.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Oh My Gods!?
SC: It’s a passion project from the entire team that made it. We all love Greek Mythology, the characters that we’ve created, the world we’ve built, and the twists that we’ve put on the classic lore. We had so much fun modernizing it and writing for that middle-grade audience, and I really hope that it resonates with them.