About almost a year ago, in the 2019 February OwlCrate box I received the usual book and merch and with them, there was also a graphic novel in a softcover. That was “The Tea Dragon Society” by Katie O’Neil published by Onipress . I came to love this little book! The author is also the illustrator and the beauty of it is beyond compare!
The story follows Greta, a little girl that is learning the Blacksmith art, following her mother’s footsteps. She is trying to understand why she should be doing this, why her mother is doing this, since there are no more wars, no more heroes fighting with swords. Her mother explains to her that people like what she creates, and since Greta’s father finds buyers for what she creates, she will continue doing it.
One day, as Greta walks in town, she finds a little Tea Dragon, that is surrounded by hounds. The hounds are starving, therefore they turn to the Tea Dragon to feed themselves. The girl throws the meet she carries to them and frees the Tea Dragon. Once she brings her home, her father recognizes the Tea Dragon’s owner and sends Greta over to him. Hesekiel is going to open his door to Greta, and with that, he is going to introduce her to a whole new world, the world of Tea Dragons.
This story is about embracing the different, making new friends and remembering tradition. It is remarkable how O’Neill manages to pass all these meanings through such a short book, a graphic novel. Her illustrations are absolutely stunning and so beautiful that attract the reader’s eye and keep it there until the story is over and then more. A whole new world unfolds through the pages of this graphic novel, one that can spread over to more issues and more stories to come. Every page is full of O’Neill’s imagination, calling for the reader’s imagination to create a few more pictures with their own imagination.
At first we see the difference to our patriarchal world. Greta’s mother is the Blacksmith in the family, while her father does a more delicate job and is more hours at home, doing chores and welcoming Greta. And that’s the norm. Father is selling tea leaves while Mother is doing manual labor. You can see it also in the illustrations that the Mother is the strongest of the two, the more built up. In addition, Hesekiel lives with Erik, who is now in a wheelchair and is an instructor to those that want to learn how to care for a Tea Dragon. Turns out the two of them used to be a fighting pair, against monsters. Eric would use his sword ability while Hesekiel would use his magic. When Eric was traumatized in a fight, Hesekiel stayed by his side, as all good friends do and cared for him. Which is another beautiful and valuable lesson.
And then we learn also about the Tea Dragon Society, which existed back in the days that more people had Tea Dragons and cared for them. In those days, they would gather all together once or twice a year and make friends. The owners with the other owners and the Tea Dragons with other Tea Dragons, a rare quality, but a friendship that would last for ever, even if the Tea Dragons would not meet frequently.
About the author:
Katie O’Neill is an illustrator and graphic novelist from New Zealand. She is the author of Princess Princess Ever After, The Tea Dragon Society, and Aquicorn Cove, all from Oni Press. She mostly makes gentle fantasy stories for younger readers, and is very interested in tea, creatures, things that grow, and the magic of everyday life.