Podcast People: Emma Steinkellner

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.Transcript by Rev.com

Podcast People: Discussion between Emma Steinkellner and Studio City Library Podcast People

DANIELLA: Hello everyone. You are listening to another episode of the Studio City Podcast People. Today we are going to be joined by author and cartoonist, Emma Steinkellner, author of the graphic novel, The Okay Witch. Hi, my name's Daniella, and I have a question for Emma. And my question is, so, the main character's name is Moth, and I was wondering why you chose the name Moth, and if it has some type of deeper meaning to it.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Great question, thank you Daniella, first of all. Names, I love naming characters, it is... I don't know if anyone else likes to write, or just give characters that they draw names even if they don't have a story to go with them, but I think names are so much fun. And I love thinking about, oh, if there are siblings in a story, what are two names that the same set of parents would likely give those two characters? Or, what kind of historical significance might a character's name have, if they're from the past? Or, does this character's name have some kind of symbolic meaning? Which is all to say, I have no idea how I came up with the name Moth Hush. I mean, I don't believe in... I'm not going to call it a stroke of genius, because that sounds incredibly conceited. But, it really did... I just drew this character, and she originally looked a little bit different.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Her hair was completely white, instead of her just having that one little gray streak that you might have noticed. But she mostly looked the same. And then, when I had that character, I knew she was kind of witchy, and kind of from a little offbeat sort of supernatural world, and I named her Moth Hush. I later went back and sort of back-rationalized it, and sort of went, "Okay, and now I can figure out the meaning, now that I know what the name is, and now that I know who the character is." Because if anyone's ever seen a moth, they're like a butterfly, but they're this winged insect that flutters around very, very nervously. And so the movement of a moth is very, "I'm going to go over here, I'm going to go over there, I'm going to go to this light, I'm going to land here." I think Moth kind of has that sort of nervous energy, because she hasn't...

EMMA STEINKELLNER: She wants so badly to know what's going on at all times, and she wants to have a handle on things, and have control over her powers, and it doesn't work out all the time. So sometimes her... She is both out of her depth in the way that she doesn't know everything about what's going on, and she's sometimes physically out of her depth because her magic powers have gotten her into a lot of trouble. So that's the name Moth Hush, and then Hush as a last name, I don't even know if anyone in real life has that last name. But I liked it, it just sort of sounds mysterious, and like it's a secret, like hush-hush. But her mom's name is Calendula, which is the name of a flower. It's a very pretty, yellow flower, kind of like a marigold. But the name of that flower is also Latin for, "Little calendar," which I thought would be kind of fun.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Because her mom does so much time travel, and playing around in different periods of time. So that's the significance of her mom's name, and then the Kramers are the family in the town that has a lot of power, and that has done some witch-hunting over the centuries. And I named them that because there's a very old book that was used... That a lot of people know about the witch trials in America, but there were witch trials that went on for a lot longer, and they were a lot more violent and severe in Europe.

DANIELLA:Thank you.

WRIGLEY: Hi, my name is Wrigley, and I've never read the book, but I really wanted to read it, and I think I've seen it somewhere before, and I was really excited, and I really wanted to read it. I love graphic novels, yeah.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: I really hope [crosstalk] you get the chance to read it soon.

WRIGLEY: Well anyway, I'm really also interested in art. Do you have any style of art that you are into?

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Thank you for asking that question, Wrigley. I've always loved comics, and there weren't as many graphic novels for kids and for young readers when I was growing up. I think that's become... So much of this, there's been a huge boom of that recently, and I would have loved that growing up. But, I got plenty of things that I loved to read too, and one of them was, I loved Archie Comics. I always used to get them when I went to the post office, or the grocery store, they would always be there at the checkout counter, and I loved them. I would always pick one up, and they would be a double digest or something with however many comics, stories in there about just this gang of teenagers. And my favorite part of it was that this comic series has been going on since like the 1940s, so there's this huge, huge back catalog of stories.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: And that's how I got really interested in history too, is because I would like reading these comics from...about being a teenager, or a kid from another time, in the 60s or the 70s, or the 40s or the 50s. And that was really interesting, to kind of compare and contrast the comics from those different times and those different eras. And that got me just really interested in that, and I think a lot of the style of some of those comics, which, since they're made by a big publisher, use a lot of different artists, and also since they were publishing over lots and lots of different decades, they used lots and lots of different artists at different times. So I liked a lot of the illustrators who did work for that. They had a very simple, kind of clear style, but the characters were always really, really expressive.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So I think I picked up a lot from that. I picked up a lot from watching cartoons, movie and TV. I mean, I loved Disney movies as a kid, and just animated movies. Again, it's anything where a character was super expressive, and you knew exactly what they were feeling by what was in their face, or how they were moving their hands. So that's the kind of thing that I loved a lot. I have since grown to love older illustrators, like Norman Rockwell is a very classic American painter, who drew a lot of scenes of...very cute, funny scenes of American life, from the 30s through the 70s or so. So I always liked that kind of stuff. But as an artist, and as a cartoonist, and this is something you're probably already learning Wrigley, you pick up a lot of different things from a lot of people's different styles, and you figure out what you like and what you can maybe let them have as a part of their style, but you don't want for yourself.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: And you just kind of learned how your hand draws. You pick up different things from different places, and it ultimately turns into something that's uniquely your own and original, and that's something really, really special and fun. But I guess that's sort of the mishmash that made up how I like to draw. And then once I feel like I figured out my style, then something changes, and it develops even more. But I feel like now, after doing, The Okay Witch, after doing a 270-something page graphic novel, I probably finally landed on how I'm going to draw for the rest of my life, give or take some little details.

WRIGLEY: That is very interesting. Also, well, I'm really interested in manga and anime, but I draw very cute. Do you have any signature hairstyles that you put on your characters, like... I usually put curlicues on my hairstyles.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: That's really fun. Yeah, I mean, for The Okay Witch, I wanted to work really hard on having each of them have very, very distinct curl patterns, and Moth has longer, thicker hair that has a different curl pattern from her mom's, who keeps it a little bit shorter. But yeah, curls are really, really fun to draw, and both my mom and my sister growing up had this beautiful, curlicue hair, like really, really tight curls, and I always wanted their hair. So I think I probably just glorified that in my artwork. I like drawing little bits of flyaway and frizz on everybody's hair, even if it's bone straight. But I think the best way to figure out the types of hair, or eyes, or noses, or clothes that you will want to draw, that you want to get better at drawing, is looking at the people in your life, or looking at the people who...

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Looking at photos of people online, or in movies, or in TV, or watching people walk down the street, which I guess is a little bit difficult right now. But, there's still plenty of ways to kind of observe life, and observe the way that people style themselves. That's where I get a lot of my inspiration from. Sometimes I will be... I'll be at a store, and I will see the colors of someone's jacket, and it'll maybe not inspire me to do a jacket in those exact colors, but a dress or something. Your inspiration's going to translate through in some very weird, not exactly direct ways. But I think what is the most fun, and what I encourage you to do, is just think of the things that interest you when you look at them in real life, and those will find their way into your cartoons, I promise.

WRIGLEY: That was amazing.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Maybe I'll work bunny ears into my next comic.

LAUREN: Okay, let's go in the chat. So Cyrus asks, "Is there going to be a part two?"

EMMA STEINKELLNER: That's a great question Cyrus, and I sincerely wish I could tell you. I can tell you right now, I am working on a new graphic novel, a new middle-grade graphic novel, and if you liked The Okay Witch, or if you haven't read The Okay Witch but you want to, and then you like it, I promise that the one I'm working on now, you will like it. I can very confidently guess that. But, you will see a new middle-grade graphic novel out of me relatively soon. The nice part of this lockdown, everyone having to be in their houses, is it's keeping me very, very responsible, doing my pages and stuff.

LAUREN: Okay. And then, does Kiana have a question? Okay, Kiana asks, "Why didn't Cal's mom allow her to have a boyfriend?"

EMMA STEINKELLNER: All right, now we're getting to the juicy stuff. That's a really good question, thank you Kiana. I think the reason that Sarah, Sarah Hush, sort of the queen of the witches, the leader of all the witches who then escape to the hidden witch real of Hecate didn't want Calendula to really be associating with any humans, is because she's very, very fiercely protective of her daughter, in the way that a lot of mothers are, and in a way that can be stifling for a lot of daughters. But everyone has their reasons for behaving the way that they do. And so the reason that she didn't really want her daughter to get involved with anyone in Founder's Bluff is because the fear that she has that people will retaliate against the witches again will come hunt after them, will find their hidden world. So I think it's a lot of fear that's guiding that.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So Sarah and Calendula sort of have a strained relationship, they have a hard time understanding each other because they have two very different ways of being witches. Sarah is very, very orthodox, and she's very strict about how a witch should behave, and what they should know, and where they should live, and who they should associate with. Calendula's a little bit more, at least when she's using magic, sort of can't see free, and she's like, she wants to help humans, and she wants to use her magic to help people, let them have fun, and let them fall in love, and all of those kind of things. She kind of reminds me of The Little Mermaid, has anyone ever read that story, or seen that movie? Yeah, I'm getting some nods over here. She sort of really wants to be where the people are.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: But her mother, Sarah, for obvious reasons, is very, very scared, and so she's very, very strict. There's that sort of complex. And then you see it kind of repeating again, even though Calendula's like, "I would never be what... I would never be the way that my mom was to me." But then you see that kind of repeating itself with her and Moth, how she doesn't want Moth to use magic, and she doesn't want Moth to get involved with something that scares her so much. Sometimes I really don't appreciate the way a friend is treating me, they might be blowing me off or ignoring me. But then I'll totally do that to someone else, and I just won't be aware of it, because you don't think of yourself as the person who's causing other people problems all the time. Everyone know what I'm talking about?



EVA: My name is Eva, and my question is, Mr. Laszlo, I believe he was part of the LGBTQ community?

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

EVA: Okay. Was there a reason for that?

EVA: For him being gay?

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Yeah. So, Mr. Laszlo, yeah, he's an openly gay man, or at least he's a... He was an openly gay man when he was an alive man, and now he's a cat, so there's that species to translate to. But yeah, he's inspired...like I was telling Wrigley, getting inspiration from your own life and from the people you know doesn't just happen in artwork, it happens in the way that we write characters too, and the types of stories that we want to tell, and that we want to reflect. So yeah, Mr. Laszlo is... I really don't know how to say this, an openly gay cat. But he, in his human life, he had a very affectionate romance with Professor Folks, who runs the Founder's Bluff History Museum. And that history, we don't get into as much. It's suggested that they didn't really get to be together for their whole lives.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: They had a kind of young romance, but they still have a lot of love for each other, even just as friends. And obviously, as far as Professor Folks, Laszlo is dead, he has no idea that he's a ghost cat. But yeah, they have a lot of love for each other, even if it's just in memory. I have some characters who are written with very explicit romantic interests, and obviously Cal was involved with Moth's dad, and things like that. But a lot of the times I don't specify a character's orientation, or who they're attracted to, because it doesn't really matter to the story, which is... I always loved when I was a kid, stories about love and romance, and crushes, and relationships. But I don't really like writing about it that much, so we'll see how much it comes up in future comics that I do. But when it makes sense, it makes sense, and I knew it always made sense to write Laszlo and Folks in that... With that history and with that relationship to each other. But love and romance don't play a huge role elsewhere in The Okay Witch, I guess.

EVA: Thank you.


ISABEL: My name is Isabel and my question is, do you only write graphic novels?

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Thank you, Isabel, for that question. So far, I've only written graphic novels. For me, the stories that I think of make the most sense with both words and pictures in that form, doing comics. And, I would feel sort of empty if... I mean, writing is very, very fulfilling, and coming up with stories, and characters, and lines of dialogue is really fulfilling. But I think for me, as an author, I would feel sort of empty writing a book that didn't have any pictures in it. Because that's just how I imagine stories, when I think of a story that I want to do, I think of the way a character looks and how they would move when they say a line, or what their house looks like. So it makes the most sense to me to do graphic novels. I mean, maybe in the future I would do... I would do a book without pictures, or I'm also really interested in maybe doing TV or movies someday.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: That would be really interesting and using that kind of both visual and text element but in a different way. But for now, I just do graphic novels, because they're the perfect fit for me. I really like doing them.

NICHOLAS: My name is Nicholas, and why did you want to become an author?

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Hi Nicholas, nice to meet you. I wanted to become an author, I think, because I just liked to read, and I haven't read that... I mean, I read a lot of books in high school and college, because I had to for school. But this time in my life when I loved reading the most was probably when I was eight, nine, 10, 11 when I was reading those books. So, now that I am an author, it makes a lot of sense to be writing and illustrating books for the reader that I liked to be back then. When I'm thinking about making a book, I'm usually asking myself questions that revolve around, "What would have made me happy when I was reading a book when I was 10, or 11 years old? What would have... What is the book that I would not have put down?" And I have plenty of examples that I look back on. There are books by Kate Klise, like, like Letters from Camp.


Or like these really cool epistolarys which is like a book that's made all internally out of letters, and notes, and newspaper articles. And I love books like that, I love funny books, like the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar, and Holes by him too was really, really great. So I think of the... Or kind of weird fairy tales, like the ones that [inaudible] writes. So when I think of all the types of books that I loved to read when I was a kid, that, again, that I just could not put down, and I try to think how I can make a book that is my version of doing all those things, so that I can deliver a book to... I guess not to myself, because I'm not 10 anymore, but to someone who is going to appreciate it as much as I did.

SEBASTIEN: My name's Sebastien, and my question is, what gave you the idea for the book?

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Thank you, Sebastien. I knew I wanted to do a book about witches for a long time because I just think that witches are interesting, I think there are boring stories about witches too, but there are boring stories about lots of interesting things. So you can't win them all. But a lot of my favorite stories revolved around people with magic powers that weren't totally under their control, that they were struggling with a little bit. So I knew I wanted to do a story that had that, and I wanted to do a story that would have some kind of historical or time travel element in it, because I love history, and even when I don't write it totally right, I really liked writing about different times, and characters in different times and places.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So I wanted witches, and I wanted history. And originally, The Okay Witch was going to be... I now hate this idea, but I will tell you about it. It was originally going to be about a teen witch and her mom who are living throughout centuries, and they age only... And they age very slowly while everyone else ages at normal... The normal human rate. So Moth is a baby when, in like the 1690s, during the Massachusetts during the witch trials. But then she's a kid in whatever, the 1800s, and then she's finally like a tween now. So that was complicated, and I honestly don't think I'm good at math enough to be able to keep up that timeline very properly. But, I thought it would also make a lot of sense, now that it was definitely going to be... That was when it was going to be more of a graphic novel that wasn't explicitly for kids.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: But then when I decided, "Okay, it's going to be a book for middle-grade readers," I decided, "Okay, this probably is going to be more about Moth than about Moth and her mom." So Moth is definitely the main character now, and so I can focus on her, I'll make her a kid now who discovers that there's this huge, sprawling, centuries-old history of witches in her family. And that way, it can be her journey, she's discovering all of this, she's pretty overwhelmed by it, but this whole history does exist for her to discover. So that's how the original idea evolved into what The Okay Witch actually was. Has anyone ever, just a show of nods I guess, has anyone ever had to write a first draft of something? Yeah, I see a couple of thumbs up, a couple nods, a couple raises of hand. So that first draft of The Okay Witch, which was just the first chapter, but it was completely illustrated.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So it was the first like, 25 pages or so, completely written and illustrated. I had to redo that like, 10 times over the course of a year, before I found... Before my agent found someone who would publish the final version of the first chapter, which is now in the final version of the book, which you can read at any bookstore or library or internet read you. Yeah, it took a whole year of, I was working at another job at that time, of just working on that first chapter over, at like night, and on the weekends, and really, really figuring it out, over drafts and drafts and drafts. And sometimes those drafts, from one draft to another, would change a lot, and sometimes they would change only a little bit. But it just took a lot of balancing and reconfiguring until I found what was going to work.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: I don't like doing things over, I don't like taking edits, I really don't like doing extra work, but I always do find that it's worth it in the end, because I usually come up with something that's way better than when I started, way more what I actually wanted it to be through thinking it over that many times. So that is the... I guess that's the moral of the story, about being okay with doing drafts and edits of things. You will be happier later, I promise. Thank you, Sebastian.


LAUREN: So my name's Lauren, I'm the children's librarian at Studio City. And I just had a question that I get a lot from children, especially because graphic novels are so popular right now, and are going to be forever. Did you go to school to learn how to draw? I find your artwork to be very eye-catching, and I was just reading it. How did you find your style, did you go to school to learn how to draw? How did you get started? Because a lot of children love to draw.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: Yeah, I love answering this kind of question, because I really... You know, I didn't draw out of nowhere, but it took a lot of hard work because... And I didn't necessarily... I did not go to college for arts, I majored in gender studies at Stanford, which... There's definitely a lot of that kind of stuff reflected in the story of The Okay Witch, the story of how people treat each other, especially women, especially outspoken women who maybe live on their own and don't obey the rules of society so faithfully. So that was what I studied in college. In high school, freshman year of high school is when I... I always loved drawing, I always loved drawing when I was a kid, and reading comics, and watching cartoons, and trying to ape those styles and figure out how to draw anything that was remotely close to what I wanted it to look like.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: But freshman year of high school was when I really started to discipline myself and go, "Okay, I want to draw things that look like things." So I did a lot of things in high school that...I took the drawing class that was available my freshman year, I took... One year I got rejected, and then the next year I got in, the California State Summer School for the Arts, which is a pretty fun program that's on the Cal Arts campus over the summer, and it's available to, I think just high schoolers. So in the future, you all can go. But it was really great, I went there to study animation because that's originally what I thought I was going to do. I love animated movies and TV shows, and that made a lot of sense to me, to kind of have my love of drawing channel into that. And I still love animation, don't get me wrong, it rules so hard.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So I did that for a summer, and I learned a lot of really cool techniques about figure drawing, and about different styles, and how to animate things, and do stop motion, and all these cool... Just sort of techniques. And then I went to a couple of figure drawing classes that were available through the local city college, and adult ed classes, which I did... I think I wasn't totally following the rules because I was 17, and you are supposed to be 18 to go to those because people aren't totally clothed. But, I did learn how to draw, very much in those classes. So when you are 18, you can go. But it was just a lot of that kind of stuff, and then just really trying to observe life and draw it accurately, and then if I couldn't draw it accurately at least draw it interestingly. Because that is the truth of being an illustrator, is you want to draw things so that people have enough of an idea of what it is, but given enough of a twist so that it's kind of flavorful.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So the truth of it is, I did some classes here and there, but mostly I just drew and drew and drew. I did a webcomic with my sister as the writer in high school, that had about 300 pages, maybe more, because that was over several years. So that was a lot of good practice, really developing my style over those several, several pages, and then I kept drawing in college, even though that's not what I was necessarily taking classes in. But, my thesis in college was a graphic novel, and it was all about...has anyone's parents ever given them a book about growing up and your changing body? No, no-one's... My mom gave me one, it was called, It's Perfectly Normal, and I did like that book. But it was an illustrated book that just taught you all about puberty and stuff, and it was super awkward, but valuable information I guess.

EMMA STEINKELLNER: So I did one of those as my thesis in gender studies, and it was really fun and I learned a lot. It probably won't be published, because it was really... My goal was to make something that kids would actually like to read and wouldn't feel awkward, but that's probably impossible. So there we go.

GROUP SPEAKERS: This is Podcast People signing off from Studio City Library!

[Music outro]

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.Transcript by Rev.com