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Meet the Fellows

In the studio with Olivia Stephens

Tulsa Artist Fellow Olivia Stephens

Destiny Jade Green

Meet the Fellows takes you inside the studios of the 2019 Tulsa Artist Fellowship recipients for a look at their life and work. Since 2015, Tulsa Artist Fellowship has recruited artists and arts workers to Tulsa, where they “have the freedom to pursue their craft while contributing to a thriving arts community.” For more information, visit tulsaartistfellowship.org.

The Tulsa Voice: Can you tell us a little about your background and work?

Olivia Stephens: I’m an illustrator and cartoonist originally from the Seattle area, and I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017 with a BFA in Illustration. I’ve always been interested in telling stories but it wasn’t until I discovered comics that I found a medium that felt utterly comfortable for me to use. There are certain things I can only properly communicate in an image and other things that need words behind it to drive the point home. I find comics to be a perfect marriage of both.

My comics reflect the things I’m passionate about dissecting: emotional hang ups, interpersonal conflicts, and how the past affects the present. I’m fascinated by the influences of generations within a family, both good and bad. Music is another recurring theme in my work. I enjoy the challenge of depicting an auditory experience in a visual language.

TTV: Can you tell us a little about your debut graphic novel, Artie?

Stephens: It’s the story of Artemis “Artie” Irvin, an eighth grader living alone with her widowed mother in rural Oregon. Her life is fairly quiet until she uncovers a big secret: She comes from a family of werewolves. Artie finds herself juggling new friends and new powers as she works to find out how her human father died—and learns she isn’t the scariest thing in the woods. At its heart, Artie is a story about finding community and family in unexpected places, with a healthy dose of supernatural antics on the side.

TTV: How do you approach storytelling in a longform format like a novel, as opposed to the web comic format?

Stephens: With something like a graphic novel that’s intended for print, there’s a lot more planning in advance. I have to write out the entire story as a script first, go through revisions and back-and-forth with my editor, and then repeat that process once I start sketching the book. Everything has to be a lot more concrete from the start because you are working with a set amount of physical pages.

Webcomics, by contrast, are spontaneous. You are free to make and post whatever your heart desires, when you desire it. … So, there’s a freedom from not being limited by the physical constraints of a book, but there’s also dangers that come with that. You don’t have to know how the story ends when you start posting a webcomic to the internet, which means you can very easily write yourself into a corner, or meander on for years without figuring out a clear direction from the beginning.