(from the drawing table of Olympians author George O’Connor)
Before we begin, I hope you’ll all take a moment to recognize something of a milestone with me. With this month’s publication of Aphrodite: Goddess of Love, the sixth volume of Olympians (which is projected to be a twelve volume series), I’ve reached the halfway mark! Pretty exciting! Cheers to the Lady Aphrodite and the Olympians, long may they inspire and entertain.
Today I’m going to write about something that a lot of eagle-eyed fans have written me about. Go and get your copy of Poseidon: Earth Shaker. I’ll wait here.
Okay, now flip it over and look at the back cover, specifically at the little pictures of the other volumes of Olympians at the top. Direct your gaze to the little Aphrodite cover. Now compare it to your copy of Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (I probably should have told you to grab that when you fetched Poseidon). They’re pretty different! Now the question is… why?
Of all the Olympians, Aphrodite took me the longest time to nail down her appearance. In the first two volumes, Zeus and Athena (you know, just go and fetch the whole collection at this point) she only appears in a handful of panels, and she’s decidedly off-model—a proto-Aphrodite, if you will. She gets a bit more page-time in Hera, not much, but by that point she’s settled more or less into the form that she’ll be wearing for the rest of the series. She appears in, like, two panels of Hades, and doesn’t even make an appearance in Poseidon at all. My point is, despite having a pretty good handle on her character, I hadn’t drawn her very much.
That little tiny Aphrodite cover on the back of Poseidon? I had to draw that a long time before I actually started working on the Aphrodite book. In fact, I had to draw that before I started working on the Poseidon book. I have an enormous spread-sheet that details the whole over-arching plot of the Olympians series—what myths will be told in which book, which characters will feature where, what plot points I will hit at what time. I had a good idea of what was going to be in the Aphrodite book so I drew a cover representing it.
This is all that remains of my first cover for Aphrodite, what we in the comics biz would call the color flats—the fancy modeling and effects have been lost to time and sloppy computer filing. I sent the finished version of this cover to the First Second offices where it caused a little bit of a controversy. Sex in comics, especially in an all-ages series like Olympians, is a tricky road to traverse, and the editorial staff was split. Some people felt that Aphrodite was too sexy on this cover, and that she looked more like a bimbo than a powerful and dread goddess. Other members of the editorial staff felt that my depiction of Aphrodite was very sex-positive—that her portrayal was entirely appropriate. I was in the latter camp. I felt that, while Aphrodite is one of the most powerful Olympians, she wasn’t really a dread goddess—she would wield her powers with a smile. Even if she were totally screwing you over, you would still love her as she did it. But I agreed to take another stab at it.
I didn’t completely redraw the cover, but I tweaked a few things digitally. I redrew her hand and arms into a more menacing and less gleeful pose. I tilted her head so that it was less coy, and so that she’s staring directly at the reader. She looked more powerful, yes, but less happy. I was worried that we had gone from sex-positive to sex-scary, but folks seemed satisfied with it. This was the cover that went on the back of Poseidon.
Time passed and I completed work on Aphrodite: Goddess of Love. I was still unsatisfied. A lot had changed about my conception of the book now that I’d actually written it. I decided to redraw the cover again.
For starters, I aged up Eros to match how he ultimately appears in the story. I dropped off Ares, Hermes and Hephaistos (the three gods most often cited as the father of Eros) and replaced them with Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, the Charites, who served as the narrators of the book. I dropped off Zephyros, the west wind as well. He ended up only appearing in one panel—not enough to make the cover. I had Zeus turn his back on the upstart goddess of love to show how he felt threatened by her, rather than his previous pose of comically looking out at the audience, holding his head with a ‘why me’ expression. And I added Eris, goddess of discord (and my favorite character to draw in the book) peeking out from behind the shoulder of Hera.
As a bonus, all these other changes gave me the opportunity to revisit Aphrodite herself. After drawing an entire book about her, my conception of her appearance had morphed further. She had grown less buxom and voluptuous, and more willowy and graceful. I dropped her menacing gesticulations in favor of a more neutral pose that I felt more accurately conveyed the way she wields her power. And I gave her the Apple of Discord, because it’s nice to have something shiny on the cover.
So for everyone who has written me, or come up to me asking about the different covers of Aphrodite, now you know. I hope you all enjoyed this little peek behind the scenes.