Much like dinosaurs and space travel, mythology–especially Greek mythology–is one of those obsessions legions of kids of a certain age seem to share. My Greek mythology “stage” was most intense in middle school, through a combination of school curriculum and exposure to pop culture like the wildly inappropriate 2005 video game God of War.
That’s the heart of why Oh My Gods!, a new middle grade graphic novel about a seemingly-ordinary girl from New Jersey who moves to a new middle school on Mount Olympus, kind of has a perfect premise. Written by Stephanie Cooke and Insha Fitzpatrick with art by Juliana Moon, colors by Whitney Cogar, and letters by Andrea Miller and David Hastings, Oh My Gods! appeals to that perennial childhood love of Greek myths with a clever combination of fantastical wish-fulfillment adventures and relatable middle school concerns like making new friends.
In an interview with The Beat, cowriters Cooke and Fitzpatrick answered questions about modernizing ancient myths, how their own middle school experiences informed Oh My Gods!, and what Mount Olympus has in common with New Jersey.
Gregory Paul Silber: Oh My Gods! is built around a middle school for Greek gods and goddesses reimagined as modern kids and teachers. It’s a great premise for a middle grade graphic novel, especially because I’ve met countless kids that age who are obsessed with Greek mythology. I used to be one of them! What gives Greek myths such timeless appeal, especially for young readers?
Stephanie Cooke: MONSTERS!!! That’s the answer, right? But in all seriousness, when we’re young, we desperately want to be older and to not be a “kid” anymore. Greek Mythology exists in this space as something that is technically written for adults but the content is interesting, exciting, and accessible to younger audiences. I think the idea of reading up is so exciting to us, especially when we find something that clicks.
Insha Fitzpatrick: I absolutely agree with Stephanie. I also think the characters of those Greek myths speak to everyone in their little way. You can make them into your own (which we did with this book) and draw on them for a little bit of context for your own life and times. I think young readers can look at those characters inside of these myths and be like, “Whoa! She’s so cool! What a role model! What a friggin’ legend!” and it opens them up to a world of possibilities.
Silber: I’m sure that a lot of memories are bound to come rushing back when telling stories set in a middle school. With that in mind, did you find in your cowriting process any similarities in your middle school experiences? Can you point to any events in Oh My Gods! that were inspired by your own childhood exploits?
Cooke: For me, I don’t think there were specific school experiences that I drew ideas from. There’s certainly a lot of my own feelings and personal moments put into the characters and themes though. I was an only child that grew up in the middle of nowhere and in elementary school (we didn’t actually have Junior High in my town), I was bullied a lot, so those feelings of isolation and loneliness definitely play into how I wanted to tell parts of the story.
Fitzpatrick: Hard same, I was an only child as well. That itself makes you feel isolated, and I withdrew a lot because of the bullying I was put through. I also had to relocate to different schools four times as a kid; making new friends (and keeping good ones) was very hard for me. A lot of my childhood felt like one of our main characters, so I think that built up throughout the book.
Silber: I’d also like to know about your collaborative process with artist Juliana Moon. What do you think her character designs brought to these young, contemporary interpretations of iconic mythological figures?
Cooke: I will never be able to say enough good things about our wonderful and sweet Juliana! When you see graphic novels in the book market, it’s a coin toss as to whether or not the teams were formed pre-book deal or by the publisher when it was acquired. For us, we brought Juliana on board after seeing her portfolio and just how good she was at expressions and character design. We knew that she was the right fit for the story we wanted to tell since she brings such a cute style while also hitting the emotional mark when it comes to the bigger moments.
(Also shout out to the amazing Whitney Cogar for her brilliant colour work on the book!)
Fitzpatrick: Juliana is a goddess herself. Just a pure loving soul inside and out. I agree with Stephanie. It also feels like she brought this effortlessly cool, young, vibrant vibe, yet modern style that everyone could relate to. And she did that effortlessly just as well. It was so fun with Juliana on the designs. She would pop in sometimes and ask, “DOES THIS LOOK OKAY!?” Which was too adorable, and we could excitedly yell back at her because she would just nail it.
Silber: I was born, raised, and spent most of my life in New Jersey, so I have to ask about the choice to make the protagonist of Oh My Gods!, Karen, a 13-year-old Jersey girl who’s whisked away to Mount Olympus. Was there any significance to her being from such a misunderstood state? And does Mount Olympus have anything in common with New Jersey?
Cooke: I feel like I should just let Insha answer this one haha
Fitzpatrick: Hahaha, I was also born, raised, and still live in New Jersey. I love this state with all my heart. NJ is very misunderstood and almost looked down upon. It was almost cool to write how much it resembles Karen’s starting journey from one place to another. Not only in location but in her personal journey as well. We see her almost immediately misunderstand Mount Olympus (the way people do with Jersey), and certainly, people misunderstand her. It’s almost a double meaning in a way, but also, we just wanted her to be from NJ because I love my friggin’ state man. Hahaha.
Silber: We won’t give it away, but Oh My Gods! ends on a juicy cliffhanger. Is there anything you can tease about what readers might find in the sequel?
Fitzpatrick: Stephanie’s so good at doing the teasers. I’m going to let her do this one, hahaha.
Cooke: Prior to a few weeks ago, I think I was cheesily saying “it’s going to be a-maze-ing!” but now the cover and title are out there and it’s called Oh My Gods! 2: The Forgotten Maze so that sort of ruins the fun punnery. Although the sentiment still stands. That being said, it takes place pretty much immediately after the first book and revolves around Karen finding out more about who she is and how exactly she fits in at Mount Olympus. And like the name suggests, Karen and friends find themselves in a maze below their school where they have to find an online troll at the center of it known only as M1N0T4UR.
And as an aside, my fave detail in the OMGs book covers is in the logo. If you look at the Greek vase, it changes for each book and gives you a little hint about what you might expect to see in the story (shout out to Andrea Miller for coming up with that!).
Fitzpatrick: Shout out to #TeamNoChill too!
Published by HMH Books as part of their Etch imprint, Oh My Gods! is in stores now.