Is This the Real Life, or is This “Strangely Katie’s” Fantasy World?

What do you get when you combine dragons, tea, and a little bit of magic? You get the amazing fantasy worlds of artist Katie O’Neill. Katie – aka Strangely Katie – has used her art and storytelling skills to create beautiful & nice comics, including The Tea Dragon Society where little dragons grow tea leaves from their horns (!!), Princess Princess, and more. It’s impossible to look at her work and not be mentally transported to a fantasy world full of creatures you wish were real. We talked to her about the wonderful worlds she brings to life, whether her own surroundings in New Zealand influence her, what her favorite tea dragon would be, and got some amazing advice on creating comics.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s your favorite plant/food/dragon type? 

My name is Katie, I’m an illustrator from New Zealand and I make graphic novels for kids such as The Tea Dragon Society and Princess Princess Ever After. I love plants and anything that grows, as well as all kinds of magical creatures. My favourite tea is ginger and lemongrass, so I think that would make for my favourite dragon, too!

A ginger and lemongrass tea dragon!

I see on IG that you dabble in many mediums, from colored pencils to watercolor to digital! What are your favorite tools of the trade?

Playing with traditional media is always fun and refreshing, but recently I’ve totally fallen in love with my iPad pro and the app Procreate! It feels so similar to traditional materials, but with the convenience of being digital and having a handy undo function.

Magical Moths

Your comic The Tea Dragon Society is adorable! What inspired this story?

Thank you so much! I was definitely inspired by my love of creatures, and I wanted to create a world for young readers to play and imagine themselves in with their own dragon companion! Plus, I drink a lot of tea so it all came together quite organically.

The Tea Dragon Society book (via Instagram).

A lot of your comics have the same magical landscape or elements that I think a lot of us associate with New Zealand. Does New Zealand itself have a big influence on your art and creativity?

It’s interesting; this is actually the first time I’ve been asked this question, but now that I think about it, it certainly has! Not only the landscape but the fairly relaxed way of life here is definitely present in my work, I think. New Zealand is quite sparsely populated with a lot of incredible and isolated nature, which also evokes a very specific mood.

A page from The Tea Dragon Society, via Instagram.

Where do you go or what do you do to find inspiration?

I find a lot of inspiration outdoors and in nature – I love to go for walks in local gardens or through the city. I also try to travel as much as possible, even if it’s just a weekend away to a nearby beach or small town. Changing your scenery and breaking away from your routine is really refreshing.

Crow & Unicorn

Tell me a little bit about your Artist Shop! Is this the first time you’ve sold your art on products?

I’ve done so before, but I wasn’t super pleased with the results. Everything on Threadless comes out so well, it makes me happy when folks show me photos of what they bought! My Artist Shop has a lot of creature- and animal-based designs with a hint of magic. I also physically cannot stop drawing flowers at the moment, so I’m hoping to add some more floral designs soon, too!

Just a few products in Katie’s Artist Shop! Top row: “Lucky Cat” on a notebook, “Crystal Dragon” on a dolman. and “Witch Cats” on a tote. | Bottom row: “Unicorn Moon” on a sherpa blanket,  “Aloe Pup” on a tapestry, and “Magical Moths” on a framed art print.

Do any of your Shop designs have stories behind them?

Many of them do! In particular, my “Witch Cats” and Aloe (the cactus dog) are characters who I have been developing for a while. I think they’d be perfect for children’s books, so I just have to wait for that extra dose of inspiration to arrive.

Witch Cats

What stories and types of art are you most attracted to?

I love stories and art that highlight something magical about everyday life. Simple things with a lot of meaning behind them, and maybe with an element of fantasy as well! In terms of art styles, I really love woodblock prints and gouache painting – I try to replicate them as much as I can even when I work digitally.

What’s your artistic philosophy?

Mainly that drawing is just one part of being an artist, and one part of being me. I try to keep a good balance so that I continue to feel a passion for drawing and stay healthy in all aspects of my life.

A beautiful dragon on Katie’s Instagram.

What advice do you have for artists who want to create a comic but are maybe too nervous to start?

I think it’s really natural to be nervous, especially when it seems like other comic artists already know exactly what they’re doing. But the truth is everyone is learning all the time, and those artists probably learned most of what they know just by getting started, making a few mistakes, but also practicing and moving forward. Stories don’t have to be perfect to have value and meaning to the person who reads them, and it matters more that you love what you’re making!

Anything else you’d like to share?

That’s about it, thank you so much for having me!

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Carlyn Hill

Dad joke aficionado, cartoonist, & contributor for sites like HelloGiggles and The Mary Sue by night. When I'm not writing or drawing, you can find me in my cave of a room hanging out with my boyfriend, Netflix.