Published May 01, 2005Kevin Munroe doesn't usually do comics. An animator by trade, Munroe's career has included developing video games, film storyboarding and he's currently writing and directing his first movie. But developing an animated series for Dark Horse Entertainment gave Munroe the opportunity to try his hand at comics. The self-proclaimed control freak embarked upon the mythology-themed Olympus Heights on his own, taking on all the writing, drawing and colouring responsibilities himself.
Olympus Heights is the story of Oliver, a regular joe who works his dream job at a local museum. Fascinated with the stone sculptures of mythical creatures that mysteriously arrive, Oliver is content conducting tours for local schools. One night, he's attacked when one of the stone statues comes to life; he is rescued by a mysterious man who claims to be Zeus.
Born of one part myth and one part imagination, Munroe takes some liberties with ancient Greek stories in this case, the story of Hades and Persephone. According to the myth, Zeus's brother Hades kidnaps Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, and takes her to Hell. After a time she is released, but is forced to return to Hell each year because of the pomegranate seeds she ate there. Munroe plays up the perceived romance between captor and abductee; he believes there must have been some mutual feelings of affection. "It creates a much cooler Bonnie and Clyde angle with these characters, almost like a Greek version of Natural Born Killers. Love is always a lot stronger than hate, as far as character motivation goes, at least for me."
Munroe uses Zeus as a father figure to Oliver, whose father died before the story begins. "To get really Dr. Phil about it, I suppose both characters represent two sides of me," he says. "I used to just create in terms of characters like Oliver the geeky outsider who, while being okay with himself, still has a world of adventure waiting for him if he just followed a gut instinct every now and again. But now I start to think in terms of Zeus-like characters the character who may have done a few things in his life, seen a bunch of cool things, but is really okay with the idea of just being himself. I think I now recognise the concept that both lifestyles can result in a life of loneliness if not played right."
Loneliness is exactly what Zeus gets. By distancing himself from his family, he's convinced that he's protecting them; it ties into themes of family that suffuse the book. "I've never had either side of the Oliver/Zeus relationship in my own life. But damn, do I want to hunt a monster just for the fun of it. I think I just like stories where people find soul mates in unexpected places. Again, I used to think in terms of characters like Oliver, but now I also appreciate the point of view of someone like Zeus. I love stories about family and how a family isn't necessarily the nuclear version we'd normally think of. I find it funny that my neighbour or co-worker can care for me more than my own blood relatives."
The family in Olympus Heights isn't the kind you'd find in every day life. Zeus's family is made up of various gods and goddesses, all of whom face their own personal struggles to find acceptance. In those supporting characters, Munroe has found another story within this one. "I'm a freak for ensemble pieces. A hugely influential movie for me was The Great Escape. I love how every character can be distilled down to the Tunnel King,' the Scrounger,' the Forger,' etc. It was probably the easier part of the entire series for me and a bit disappointing, as I really wanted to expand on them. I have an idea to do a follow-up series where we really delve into each of the gods' separate personalities. I just love that each of their personas are a reflection of their god-power: Ares (God of War, former Navy Seal), Dionysus (God of Wine and Celebration, town boozer), etc."
Olympus Heights isn't just another comic book; it's a lesson in Greek mythology. Cleverly disguised as entertainment, the story reels you in and before you know it you can recite the entire Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses.
Perspectives on Pirates
Emily Pohl-Weary likes pirates. In fact, she likes them so much she's written a comic, Violet Miranda: Girl Pirate, loosely based on two of history's most famous female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. "I've been thinking, with all the pirate stories coming out now about male pirates and featuring men, there could very easily be a similar type of story with empowered women at the core. I've always really liked the story of Robin Hood, the whole rob from the rich and give to the poor.' A few times I've tried to write the story of Robin as a girl and it just didn't work out the way I wanted it to."
With that in mind, Pohl-Weary decided to fictionalise the stories of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, giving her a story that features empowered women unfettered by the social expectations put upon them. Using two of history's most famous women pirates as a template allows Pohl-Weary to explore the intricacies of pirate life from a new perspective. "I thought that using their lives could be a really good stepping stone to create two fictional characters whose lives may be an echo, but are not exactly like Anne Bonny and Mary Read."
Violet Miranda: Girl Pirate, illustrated by fellow Torontonian Willow Dawson, is a fun story that nevertheless features a dark undertone. The lead male character in her story is based loosely on Calico Jack, a pirate who stole the hearts of both Anne Bonny and Mary Read. While awaiting execution for their crimes, both women were found to be pregnant and were granted stays of execution while Calico Jack was hanged. Does this story end the same way for our two young girl pirates? Pohl-Weary isn't telling.