As September came to a close, I spoke with Molly Knox Ostertag, artist behind Sharon Shinn’s Shattered Warrior and author of the ongoing webcomic Strong Female Protagonist as well as last year’s unique Scholastic Halloween release, The Witch Boy. With the sequel story, The Hidden Witch releasing at the end of October this year, I thought I’d get some insight into the elements behind the first book, what Ostertag was going for with the second installment, and her personal creative mindset.
To recap: Witch Boy, for the uninitiated, is the story of a young boy who lives in a strict community of magic: women do witchcraft, men do shape shifting, but he, as the title suggests, has an affinity that draws him to becoming a witch…
There’s a lot of emphasis that Aster can’t deny who he is and his family must come to terms with that. This to me can serve as an allegory for coming out, with either sexuality or gender identity. Is that intentional?
“Yeah very much so. I really wanted to make a book for queer kids, for kids who don’t know who they are yet, no matter what their families tell them to think and outside the social norms. I really wanted to give kids like that a hero. I’ve loved seeing the things people have speculated on with the characters’ identities and sexualities, I’m very open about that sort of thing and it’s just great to see the response from it.”
Are there any specific influences you can point to for the events and character developments in both Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch? Memories, stories, research you might’ve come across?
“The setting is based a lot on upstate New York where I grew up. Just exploring the forests up there; some of it has to do with a summer camp I went to and the gender binaries from that sort of setting. With [the new character] Ariel, looking the way the world is recently, the way people are angry and hateful, I wanted to get into that. It’s something different from how I am, that’s kind of the premise it’s coming from.”
What do you hope readers take away from The Hidden Witch?
“I’m hoping for kids especially- if someone is hurting, if they’re lashing out, there can usually be a reason. Ariel uses her magic to make a dark version of herself to attack people; if you indulge that dark side of yourself, it’ll come back to hurt you. There’s a message for different people who relate to the characters. For someone like Ariel, It’s important to be careful with those feelings; and for people like Charlie and Aster, kindness can go along way.”
Do you plan to keep going with this series? The Hidden Witch ends pretty well tied up, but hints at more to some new characters and their stories to come.
“Yes, I’m just not allowed to talk about it.”
Last time you spoke with The Beat you were asked about “what comes next for Molly Ostertag.” You said you were doing your own thing for the time being. How do you feel that’s been? Do you plan to do even more solo work, stay focused on a particular story/world, or do some more collaboration like Shattered Warrior with Sharon Shinn
“In terms of comics, I’m very interested in my own work, I’m working on two books for scholastic that haven’t been announced yet. I can say one of them is a romance. For my day job I’ve been working at Disney writing for a new show called Owl House, that’s been really fun. A lot of cartoonists can empathize that it’s hard on your body. I’ve been really focused on honing my skills as a writer and just being choosy with what I draw.”
I like to ask artists questions that touch on their perspectives, how they develop their work, and what draws them in. So what do you look for in a story, whether you read or write one?
LI look for stories that have a meaning you can draw from them, some kind of moral lesson or purpose. I like a story that has a bigger meaning. I like stories that go in a direction I wasn’t expecting or where a villain becomes a story. There are certain things in stories I’m really tired of, things I promised I’d never do, like a villain that’s totally evil. To me the idea is that everyone has a motivations I like to understand where they’re coming from. And of course I like stories with cool magic worlds and stuff.”
You mentioned having been shy about telling stories in your previous interview with us. I certainly hope you’re gaining more confidence in that.
“Yeah definitely, it’s been really cool to see the response to Witch Boy, especially with young kids, that’s what really motivates me!”
I thanked Ostertag for telling stories like this, since I intend to share Witch Boy and Hidden Witch with my loved ones who struggle to be who they are in an environment that doesn’t want to accept them.
To finish off, I have a handful of little questions that I like to ask all fantasy/DnD/Dragon Age lovers; if you were living in a fantasy world: would would your race and weapon of choice? And a favorite color, because everyone needs a sort of color scheme to work into their attire.
“So I LOVE DnD, but I’m usually the DM. I’ve been really into hobbits recently, so probably a Sam Gamgee kind of character with like a frying pan and a short sword. My favorite color is like a dark teal so I’m not quite sure how that would translate for a hobbit.”
“Well I’m sure there has to be a way…” is what I replied, not so sneakily, already forming a pretty solid look in my mind…
The Hidden Witch will be released on October 30th and is currently up for preorder on Amazon.
Freelance cartoonist, illustrator, & writer
School of Visual Arts Alumna