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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Aphrodite Blog Tour & Guest Post by George O'Connor

We are thrilled to have George O'Connor here today to tell all about the latest installment of his New York Times Best-Selling Olympians series, Aphrodite. The truth is we were going to host him on Sunday, but due to a shift in the space-time continuum (or real world insanity) we are running a little behind. Regardless, he's finally here and we're excited to share he and his work with our readers.

Aphrodite: Goddess of Love
By George O'Connor 

Release Date: Dec. 31, 2013
Publisher: First Second

In volume six of Olympians, graphic novel author/artist George O'Connor turns the spotlight on Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Look for the same thoroughly researched and wonderfully accessible comics storytelling as O'Connor tackles the story of the Aphrodite from her dramatic birth (emerging from sea-foam) to her role in the Trojan War.

O'Connor has outdone himself with this volume: the story is riveting and the artwork is beyond compare. Greek mythology has never been so vivid!

Hey, readers of Wastepaper Prose! My name is George O’Connor, and you’re joining me on day two of my blogcrawl to commemorate the release of my new book, Aphrodite: Goddess of Love. Aphrodite is the sixth volume of my projected 12 volume series of graphic novel retellings of classic Greek myth called Olympians. The good folks at Wastepaper Prose were kind enough to invite me to contribute this guest post, and in keeping with the theme of wastepaper prose, I thought I’d write a little today about the stuff that didn’t make it. The stuff that ended up in the wastepaper basket, so to speak.

One of the most challenging things about writing each volume of Olympians is adhering to the story length I established in the first book, Zeus: King of the Gods. 66 pages of comics, 14 pages of back matter. That means I have to do a lot of distilling, of literally thousands of years worth of stories, down to 66 pages, to present (hopefully) a perfect little snapshot, a gem that encompasses and envelops and conveys completely the underlying idea behind the featured deity, be they Zeus or Athena, Aphrodite or Poseidon.

With a set length as a constant for the series, often times I start writing at the beginning of the book (and by writing, I mean drafting both words and pictures—comics act as a synthesis of words and pictures and I find I need to create both simultaneously) and after a point I shift to the end of the book. With a set beginning and ending, I see how much room I have in the middle to play around in. If I find I need to insert a sequence at the end of the story to underline a point that nails, just really nails the theme of the book, well, it means I’ll probably have to take out something from earlier, like maybe that really fun sequence with the giants that would have been SO FUN to draw but ultimately was a bit of a narrative vestigial tail--interesting to look at perhaps, but not playing any necessary role.

When I began Olympians, I boldly and with a certain lack of hubris, planned for it to be a 12 volume series. To that effect, I created an enormous spreadsheet that detailed which myths would be covered by each individual book in the series, to best illustrate the essential nature of the titular deity. I noted which stories would cross over into which volume, which narrative threads would carry over into other books, etc. As a whole, so far, I’ve adhered very closely to that initial roadmap. There have been a few surprise deviations—In my research, I discovered a sweet little fable that I previously hadn’t known that tied Hera together like a bow; conversely, I had intended to feature the story of Eurydice and Orpheus as a subplot in Hades, but ultimately had to cut it when the central story grew and urgeoned against that dread 66 page limit. Something had to go and Orpheus was it. Sorry buddy, I can’t look back.

With Aphrodite, my wastepaper basket prose was the story of Eros and Psyche. I was at one point quite keen to include at least part of that story in Aphrodite, not the least because a good many fans of the series had written me expressing their hopes to see it Olympians-ized.

Here’s a quick refresher of the basics of the story, for those of you who are not as mythomaniacally inclined as I: Psyche was a mortal princess, whose beauty was often compared to that of Aphrodite herself. Aphrodite is offended by this and orders her son Eros to wreak some romantic havoc on Psyche, but then Eros falls in love with her himself. Through some Beauty and the Beast style trickery, Eros arranges that he marries the mortal princess in secret, and they carry out their relationship literally in the dark, hiding Eros’ true, allegedly monstrous, from Psyche. Psyche eventually becomes worried/curious enough to see her husband’s face, and by torchlight discovers Eros is not a monster but a beautiful god. She accidentally burns him with oil, though and he flees from her back to his mother’s palace. Psyche wanders the world for a time, meeting various Olympian deities who guide her until she finds herself at the palace of Aphrodite. Aphrodite cruelly makes Psyche undergo various tasks to prove herself worthy of Eros, including a trip to the underworld for beauty crème (!). Finally, Eros mans up, leaves his mom, finds Psyche and the two plead their case to Zeus, who says this recap has gone on long enough and the Eros and Psyche get married, Olympus style.

Looking back, it’s obvious why it had to go. Narratively, its casting of Aphrodite as the bad guy didn’t much jibe with my book’s central theme of exploring the Goddess of Love as the outsider married into a family of superhuman lunatics. Her persecution of Psyche is hardly going to win her any sympathy. It was also too long—even my recap was crazy lengthy! It could easily float an entire volume of Olympians all by its lonesome. Were I ever to go totally nuts and expand Olympians past its projected 12 volumes, and visit some of the minor deities of Olympus, it would almost certainly serve as the backbone for a hypothetical Eros book. My initial idea in the outline was to join the story en media res with Psyche on her trip to the Underworld and fill in the rest with what would have to have been a heroic amount of exposition, but man, that was just not going to work.

Finally, the story of Eros and Psyche features a maturing and growing Eros—certainly older than the cherubic troublemaker who eventually flits through Aphrodite, and that young winged hellraiser was ultimately the more fun character. So sorry, Eros and Psyche, this outing was not for you. As I lay it out here, it probably seems obvious to you the reader that it wasn’t going to be, but I’m stubborn, I guess, and had to figure it out myself. I’m happy to report that after I realized the folly of trying to shoehorn in Psyche the rest of Aphrodite came together easily, like the pieces of a puzzle.

I hope you enjoyed reading my guest post on… letting go and letting your story decide where it needs to go. And if some of that story is to be relegated to the wastepaper basket, well, that’s really not so bad a thing.

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