Season two of webcomic Lore Olympus just concluded, with season three coming very soon, and io9 got a chance to speak with Eisner-winning creator Rachel Smythe all about it. Since its 2018 launch, Lore Olympus—a retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth—has gained a dedicated fandom (it’s the number one most-read series on the platform), spawned a best-selling graphic novel, and become a merch machine.
Hot off her Eisner win at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, io9 spoke with the New Zealand-based Smythe about her reaction to Lore Olympus’ growing popularity, how she built a diverse team to release weekly episodes (we fast-pass them with our coins!), and what the season two finale means for Hades and Persephone as the series heads into its third installment. Oh—and an update on that in-development animated series from Wattpad Webtoon Studios and the Jim Henson Company that we can’t wait for.
Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the season two finale (episode 206).
Sabina Graves, io9: Congratulations on the Eisner! How did you feel receiving the recognition for Lore as part of your first awards show win stateside?
Rachel Smythe: It was so emotional. It’s so special to get to watch other people be acknowledged for their achievements—to see their faces, to see how they’re validated in all the work that they did. There’s something magical about that. I cried about 15 times about people I’ve never met before. It was really special.
io9: I grew up as a mythology nerd, so it’s been awesome to see this adaptation happen in a time where there’s been a lot of re-framing of narratives for female figures in myth. Can you take me back to what inspired this take?
Smythe: I felt like particularly the myth of Hades and Persephone is something that I’ve always liked—even when I was a little kid. It’s just so interesting and such a good thought exercise to re-contextualize all of these traditions and types of stories and how they reflect through a modern lens. And I think probably one of my favorite parts [of Lore] is actually Hera; she was obviously, in the ancient world, particularly in these stories where they don’t like women very much, very aware that the patriarchy is real. Stephen Fry wrote a book called Mythos— so I’m just gonna cite him because he wrote something really great about Hera, that she was used as an example of “all things bad” quite often. Obviously she’s not perfection in the stories, but I feel like [in] most retellings Hera has been the bad guy. And I’m like, it’s so easy to write her as a sympathetic character. I love Hera and really enjoy this opportunity to write her as a sympathetic character like just this one time.
io9: Yes, let’s do this side tangent on Hera because I am with you on that. You do an excellent job of flipping it from the version we know of these stories where men—or gods—have for so long shifted blame to the women in their life. You’ve given Hera more agency and a perspective. I liken her a lot to Beyoncé’s Lemonade era down to the energy of the colors.
Smythe: Yes, I love that. There’s so many re-imaginings and Zeus is often framed as a really good character a lot of the time. And I’m like, he’s not. But just one time Hera could be good—even it out just a little bit.
io9: Let’s talk about Hades and Persephone. They’re everything—the story, the romance, the visuals. How did it come together for you?
Smythe: I’ve always kind of wanted to do a re-imagining of them but did not yet have the skill set. I’d been trying to for a long time, but it’s not easy, especially if you have a full time job and you’re like, “I’m tired and drawing is a lot of work.” When I hit my 30s, I had more of that discipline to push through when it was hard. With the visual development, a lot of it was about choosing things that were enjoyable because I feel like if you’re trying to make a comic or web comic, you’re going to be making it for a really long time. So you gotta pick stuff that looks cool to you and that you love and not that you are kind of okay with.
I think originally—and this is wild to me now—it was actually going to be completely black and white and really abstract. At the last minute, I think at that time I been doing a lot of Steven Universe fan art, I was like, “Oh, it was actually really fun to do that fan art … I could also draw people in this way. Like, it’s really fun.” Aside from storytelling there’s a of the language of color that you could use to convey emotions. I feel like I can actually do this so much more with the characters presented in the way they are—those are my favorite colors to work with. It’s mainly because the underworld environment is very dark and very, very deep blue often. It’s designed that way so that when Persephone goes there she sticks out a lot, almost like she’s vibrating with color. The reverse is supposed to work as well. When the settings are in Olympus they’ve got five pastel colors, so when Hades is there he sticks out a lot. So it’s meant to be kind of complimentary in that way.
io9: What made Webtoon the perfect platform for Lore Olympus?
Smythe: I just came across it. I thought the way that the comics were presented was quite innovative and it was very clean. I come from a design background and I was like, “This is nice.” It’s slick. It looks professional. I would be happy to show this to most people—there’s no random advertisements that like are quite embarrassing on there. This is meant to be what it is. I had a comic on there prior, but I didn’t know what to do really. It was kind of like a learning test thing and I would draw a regular comic page and I didn’t quite get what to do, but then I was like, “with my next comic, I’m going to take a risk and actually format like the comics that are on there.” So it’s a bit of a learning curve at that stage I was like, “Oh, I just want to like test myself and see if I can make this work and, you know, really challenge myself.” So yeah, it was mainly about the learning at the time.
io9: I kind of fell into it reading early on and was following artists who were making fan art for Lore Olympus. One that I followed on Instagram and became internet friends with is Lissette Carrera [@HardHeadedWoman], who went on to join your team. Can you talk a bit about assembling your collaborators—a group that’s very female-forward, from your editor to the assistant artists?
Smythe: One of the things that I find really overwhelming and I feel a great privilege with is the type of fan that Lore Olympus attracts. I always end up with the types of people that I want to work with, and it makes me really happy. Like it’s not an effort, you know, companies are like, “Oh, we can’t do this diverse hire because we can’t find anyone.” And I’m like, “that’s because you don’t make spaces for people to feel comfortable there.” And so, you know, I feel like really, really lucky that there’s so many talented women who all are interested in this IP.
io9: We’ve reached this very momentous occasion at the end of season two. What can you share about finally getting to the big moment, Persephone eating the pomegranate? What’s coming up for her and Hades, and what are you excited to bring to this next era of their story?
Smythe: I’m very excited about the what’s coming up because I feel like this is the dessert. We’ve had our entrée, we’ve had our veggies. We’re ready. We’re ready for for dessert. It’s all set up, I’m ready for the steamy stuff now. Yeah, this the romance, It’s here. It’s a long format romance so you need to work out how to make this entertaining long form. So it’s always been kind of difficult in a sense because it’s not a will-they-won’t-they story cause spoilers: its like the oldest the story in the world. So you know they’re going to get together. So the problem was how do you make that interesting?
io9: And they desire so many things together that from what we know of the story mythologically, they can’t have. I personally really love the section where we see Hades’ dream of a family with Persephone and everything. And I’m just like, “I really want them to have a family!” Are we bending things to where that may be coming?
Smythe: Maybe, maybe. It’s a mainly working on making it still interesting to people once they are a couple, because I feel like sometimes in TV shows once the main couple does get together it can be a little trying. For some people it kind of loses its spark and I feel like they’ve still got a lot of fun stuff to work through. I’ve been waiting a really long time to get to the point where I’m like, “No, they can be together. It’s cool. All the boxes are checked.” There’s nothing in their way and I really enjoyed writing that romance portion. So yeah. I think it’s going to be really fun.
io9: I also wanted to touch on the sensitive themes the series explores with Persephone’s trauma. Can you share a bit of your reaction to fans who have connected on that level with the subject matter?
Smythe: I found that whole aspect to be deeply touching, because you find out that you help people. Yeah, I’m very much overwhelmed because I feel like on the subject matter of [sexual assault], a lot of the time when it happens, nobody really discusses it because it’s very hard to verbalize even to people that you love and care about. And so you just kind of pack it away and hold on to it for years. And I feel like there’s a lot of people in that situation where they just don’t have any validation and they’re very isolated and it just feels nice to be able to read something. I think that means a lot to see someone go through what Persephone did and then flourish and live a really good life. And show the healing process. I think that it’s good for people. I really hope so.
io9: I’m looking forward to seeing how it kind of all comes together between Persephone and Artemis, especially since what ended up happening drove a wedge between them. To quickly jump on a lighter subject, can I get an update on the show adaptation and how things are going? I love that it’s at Jim Henson Studios, a really awesome female-led company, which feels like the right place for it to be.
Smythe: I don’t have that much to share—but it’s going awesome, is all I can say. It’s like an ongoing special occasion where there’s always something to look forward to because I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is my first time making a show and I’m like, I don’t know what’s going to come up and then someone will send me an email and I’ll be like, “Wow, wow, wow. That’s really exciting. Yay!” So yeah, obviously I can’t divulge that much. It’s definitely a collaboration, is the best way to describe it. I’m quite happy for it to be its own thing, like its own entity. The best work happens in adaptations when you just let people like do their thing but also like be really honest with feedback and stuff.
io9: Have you gotten a chance to visit Henson Studios?
Smythe: I have. I went there last time I was [in America]. It was so much fun, it was like a dream. They’ve got all these models of [Dark Crystal] Skeksis and I took a photo with one of them. It was great and the costumes are really cool. Henson was a favorite fandom growing up, like Labyrinth and whatnot. I love Labyrinth, but I was very scared of it.
io9: Thank you for taking time out during this busy weekend to chat with me. Looking forward to seeing Lore Olympus grow on all of the platforms.
Smythe: Thank you. I’m really lucky.
Lore Olympus drops every Saturday on Webtoon; season three starts August 27.
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