Artemis by George O’Connor
Artemis is another in the ongoing series of graphic stories about the Greek gods written and illustrated by George O’Connor. The short version of this review is pretty simple: these works are individually nearly all excellent, and the series as a whole, while absolutely great for young readers (and for teachers of young students), is just as fantastic a read/resource for anyone interested in Greek mythology, regardless of age. One reason is that O’Connor doesn’t simply retell the well-known stories, those we can all recite by heart. Rather he delves into much more obscure aspects of the tales, ensuring that most if not all readers will find something new.
This holds true for Artemis as well. As one might expect, we hear about Acteon coming across her bathing in the forest and being punished by being transformed into a stag and killed by his own hunting hounds. Niobe’s tears are also here, along with the wooing of Orion (which also gives O’Connor the chance to tell the story of Atalanta as well). But true to form. O’Connor also brings in less popularized stories, such as how Artemis tricked the Aloadae, a pair of monstrous brothers who keep laying siege to Olympus in hopes of carrying off both Artemis and Hera. Even in the oft-told tales though, he offers up a retelling that feels more fresh and often more intimate in the way that it is about character as much as plot. Such is the case for instance of how he tries to manage all the varying versions of how Orion met his end. All of these serve the point of plot (he dies), but the version here, while incorporating several of them, lends it all a poignancy often missing from the other versions.
Part of this added emotionality comes from the shift in POV at that time to Artemis herself, who has up to that point been the centerpiece of other people’s tales. The story begins in Leto’s voice (mother to Artemis) then shifts to Apollo, to two of her handmaidens (story of Acteon), to Hera, to Orion, to Leto again, then back to Apollo, and finally to Artemis, who explains that “Sometimes to best tell your own story, you need it to be told by another.”
The fact that Artemis doesn’t get her own voice until the end also means that the readers aren’t given a sanitized or sentimental view of the goddess. O’Connor does not shy away for the frequently capriciousness and cruel nature of the Greek gods, as when Artemis and Apollo revel in their slaying of Niobe’s children due to a slight to their mother. These darker moments are leavened by the humor woven throughout, as when Zeus tells Poseidon “You really need to stop having children” (after some of them threatened Olympus), and Poseidon replies, “Look who’s talking,” Though I confess the use of “bro hug” at one point made me wince.
The artwork is well done throughout, even if I’d say others in the series offer more frequently interesting panels. That said, there are several such examples in Artemis, such as a series where the goddess leaps down a slope and her transformation into a hind is shown by a singular focus on her leg, or when Orion’s scorpion ominously begins to show itself.
Finally, as with the other entries in the series, there are several appendices that enhance the primary work: a personal note from the author/illustrator, a series of whimsical but informative notes, character specs for Artemis, Orion, and Atalanta, and an excellent if brief bibliography. Artemis is another fine episode in a series I can’t recommend enough. And I can’t say enough that any parent and any teacher would be crazy not to have the whole collection on their shelves.