Emma Steinkellner's THE OKAY WITCH

I had to share this awesome graphic novel with you about a young, new witch learning her way in the world. It's Emma Steinkellner's debut graphic novel as both author and illustrator. (Although her graphic novel as illustrator, Quince, won her an Eisner-nomination.) She stopped by to talk about THE OKAY WITCH.
e: What was your creative process/medium for THE OKAY WITCH, can you walk us through it?
I write the script and create a lot of concept art around the same time. As I write, I’ve got to also map out on how some of the characters and backgrounds will look. My writing process is a little backwards because I often start with the “treats” (the points/moments all throughout the story that I’m excited about writing and drawing) and then I write around those. That means when I edit my writing, it’s usually all about economy and making the whole story take logical steps, while still leaving plenty of fun in there. Once I’ve gone over the script a few times with editors (and a few trusted friends/family), I’m ready to start drawing it out. I pencil the whole book, which means I roughly sketch out every page. Then I edit those pencils before I go and ink and color every page. Then more editing! And then probably more editing after that! I do my artwork digitally with a tablet, which makes my edits much simpler to address.
e: What was your path to publication - is the world of graphic novels a tough one to break into?
The summer after I graduated college, I was trying to put together a strong illustration portfolio. My not-yet-then-agent Dan Lazar saw a few of my illustrations on Instagram and emailed me, asking if I had a book in me. I lied and said yes and immediately got to work to make some pitches for books. He liked one about mother and daughter witches. So all that year, as I worked a day job illustrating ads for video games, Dan helped me refine a solid pitch and first chapter. He showed it around and Liesa Abrams over at Aladdin liked it and really, really got it. So we went from there! I put in a lot of hours and hard work before there was any promise of moving forward, but I was also extremely lucky at the right times. Now that I’ve made one graphic novel, I’d definitely like the chance to make many more.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of THE OKAY WITCH? Why witches?
I’ve always loved teen witch stories, but I hadn’t really seen the genre codified as a genre. And I didn’t necessarily want to satirize the teen witch tropes and archetypes, but I did want to do almost all of them while exploring some of their implications. I knew I wanted to do something with witches that would involve a big, juicy time travel aspect. I originally had it so Moth and her mother Calendula were living as witches in Founder’s Bluff over hundreds of years and hiding and making magic as they age slower than all the mortal townspeople. But it made more sense to have Moth be a 21st century kid who then learns about this huge, rich history of magic in her family, it brought her a lot closer to the legacy of teen witch stories. My friends did throw me a party where we watched the movie Teen Witch when I finished my pages, which was terribly fun.
e: How long did it take you to create?
I worked on that first chapter and pitch for about a year. And then the rest of the book took another year and change. I really had my head down working that year, grinding to get it done. I had to breathe and save myself from serious burnout at a few points.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I adapt a lot of philosophy about animation to how I illustrate. What are the things you can do to a drawing to really bring it to life? The principles of cartooning advise that a certain degree of simplicity will make a character universally easy to love. So we reduce a face to a series of shapes and strokes. But I also think a certain degree of specificity makes a character fun to look at. Distinguishing how they look, how they gesticulate, how their face moves. It makes the whole thing more personal. Especially because I draw a lot of those things from the people I love and that are interesting to me in real life.

e: Do you advertise yourself?
Myself, not so much. I feel way more comfortable on social media when I have something to talk about, like THE OKAY WITCH. All my other social media content is like, if I catch a clip of something funny or cute when I’m watching TCM.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I have a complex relationship with my own creative impulses. I really tend to trust my own gut, but I also want to be the best creator I can be, so I check myself to make sure I’ll still feel the same way I do about a creative decision after reeeeeeaaaally thinking it over. Because I don’t want to kill my darlings if I’m pretty sure they’ll be the readers’ darlings, too.

e: Is there something in particular about THE OKAY WITCH you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I’m pretty proud of the questions this book asks about history. As Moth learns that the true, magical history of her family and town, she sees that it’s way different from the town history everyone thinks they know. And she wrestles with what to do now that she does know. This book is about fictional history that did not happen, but I hope that a reader might take away the confidence that they can reexamine their own relationship with history, question dominant views of history/what type of history is touted as the most important and be curious about how stories are delivered to us.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I don’t think I can say yet but you can expect more fun and magical middle grade graphic novel fun from me. Emma's Office
e: Great - I can't wait to see more!

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