Thursday, November 10, 2022

Dionysos: The New God by George O'Connor

I'll start off with a hat tip: I knew this book existed, and immediately sought out a copy, because of an interview with the author at The Comics Journal. I always like that their definition of "comics" includes all of the worlds of comics, and that they're as serious about middle-grade mythology as poor-me autobio. That interview may be a good starting point for anyone who's not familiar with O'Connor, actually.

George O'Connor has been working on a series of graphic novels about the Greek Gods - deeply researched, vividly written, drawn album-size in an energetic style with a lot of '80s superhero art in its DNA - for more than a decade now. The series is called Olympians, and it's now complete at twelve books with the publication earlier this year of Dionysos: The New God.

(I've covered all of them here: Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Ares/Apollo/Artemis, Hermes, Hephaistos.)

They've all come out from First Second, in a unified trade dress, and my impression is that they were not officially published for younger readers - the copyright page doesn't have the age-level details and content coding that end of publishing requires - but First Second is a major publisher of GNs for younger readers and is well plugged into the selling channels for younger readers and this series was, as far as I can tell, mostly promoted in that direction. So maybe a bit of an asterisk on the "is this made for middle-graders?" question - it's a No But Yes.

This one is narrated by Hestia, the one of the original twelve Olympians who didn't get her own book - possibly because very few stories actually about her survived (or were ever told?), possibly because she's less interesting to modern audiences. That is appropriate for a story reason that was spoiled by myths several thousand years ago, but if you don't know, I'll let you learn it in the ending pages of this book.

As with the other books in the series, O'Connor weaves a group of somewhat discrete myths and folktales together into one narrative, to tell the main story of his central character's life. It all has to be vaguely appropriate for those middle-schoolers, so O'Connor elides some of the activities of Dionysos and his Bacchantes (I don't think he actually uses that word, actually, probably because it's of Roman origin), but adults can generally read between the lines. There's wine, there's revelry, and there's blood - it's just the sexual end of the revels that has to be implied.

Dionysos is always one of the more fun gods, up there with Hermes. (I'm sure Eddie Campbell would agree with me there.) So these are exciting stories, even with the sex parts mostly elided over, and Dionysos, as he must be, is riveting throughout. It is a fine way to end a fine series, and I'm happy to learn (from that interview I mentioned up top) that O'Connor will next do a four-book series on Norse mythology but has hopes to come back to the Greek world for more books about Titans or heroes or others. (Hey, how about a series about sons of Zeus?)

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