Can you believe that it’s been a year since we discovered the existence of tea dragons? Artist Katie O’Neill dreamed up these whimsical creatures, named for the tea leaves that grow out of their fur and with personalities to match the blend. Now, she’s building an entire world around them, with her new webcomic The Tea Dragon Society: Tea dragons (including blends we haven’t seen yet!) are just one facet of a fantasy world teetering on the edge of modernity, in which ancient magic and swords forged by generations of blacksmiths are relics of the past despite remaining as powerful as ever. The webcomic launched earlier this week, but even with only a few pages published, it already looks like it will be wonderful.
Our eyes into this world belong to Greta, the daughter of a (female!) blacksmith who is eager to learn her mother’s trade, even if she thinks swords belong more in epic stories than in the real world. With her loyal companion Brick (who brings to mind the little “soot sprites” as well as little bunny-like spirits in Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totorro), Greta delves into the world of tea dragons after she stumbles upon a weakened dragon in the first few pages. That’s about all we know so far, but a glimpse at the main characters includes a mysterious girl, a warrior-turned-tea-shop owner, and a creature who might be one of the shapeshifting dragons O’Neill mentions in her oh-so-helpful dragon almanac.
The artistic style is part Miyazaki, part Fiona Staples’ Saga (due to the humanoid creatures possessing goat and unicorn horns, much like Marko and the other Wreathians), part something unique to O’Neill. Really I’m just delighted to see how the story progresses and to meet ALL THE TEA DRAGONS. (I’m gonna say it now—if O’Neill commissions plush versions of the tea dragons, I am snatching them all up.)
In a recent interview with The Mary Sue, O’Neill talked about her inspiration…
The idea definitely started with the Tea Dragons themselves, and then developing ideas about their lore and husbandry, and then wondering who would go to such lengths for a good cup of tea? Keeping traditions and crafts alive is also very important to me, and in making a children’s graphic novel I hoped kids would start thinking about the different crafts they encounter in their lives that they could play a part in keeping modern and thriving.
…as well as the importance of inclusivity in stories like The Tea Dragon Society as well as her acclaimed LGBTQ comic Princess Princess:
Inclusiveness is definitely very important to me, I feel it’s only natural that comics (and all media!) should reflect the diversity of the world around us. I try to do my part by supporting works and anthologies by a diverse range of creators, and portraying different identities while being aware of not writing something that I haven’t experienced and isn’t my story to tell. The most authentic stories about a particular identity can only come from those who have lived it. Instead, I try to look towards universal human experiences, emotions, problems and situations and base my story writing off those.
New installments will be posted every Sunday evening PST. Upon completion, The Tea Dragon Society will be collected in book form by Oni Press, who have published Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim and a variety of other graphic novels. What are you waiting for? Start reading!