Interview - Isabel and Imogen Greenberg chat Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War - Comics for the win!
Updated: May 26
We love graphic novels here at Imagining History, even better when those graphic novels tie in to our other love; history. Fun fact segue time: the reason that I became so interested in learning about history was all down to the Asterix and Obelix comic books. Watching super-powered Gaul's punch Roman Legionaries out of their sandals was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my childhood. That and obsessively collecting outrageously priced ThunderCats stickers for my sticker album.
Anyway, what was I talking about again? Wait, wait, don't tell me. It'll come back to me.
It'll definitely come back to me.
Oh what was it...?
Come on brain, be my friend!!!
Oh yeah! Graphic novels. One of the best graphic novels I've read in a long time was 'Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War' written by and illustrated by Imogen and Isabel Greenberg respectively. It's a funny, feisty tale that smashes the extraordinary characters of Greek mythology straight in to the eyeballs of a modern audience. The book also proves a wonderful way for children to learn more about the Greek myths. The tale covers many of Athena's adventures, including escapades with Poseidon, Medusa and Odysseus, to name just a few.
Suffice to say we loved it. So, we were super-mega-awesome excited - I'm talking Christmas Eve level excitement here people - to have the chance to chat to the creators of 'Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War'. Isabel and Imogen Greenberg proved fabulous interviewees, check out all their words below.
Imagining History: What was it about the character of Athena that inspired you to create your own story about her in 'Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War'?
IsabelG: We were looking for an exciting female goddess, but more importantly one who had an interesting role in mythology. The great thing about Athena is she appears in so many different stories, so whilst telling her narrative we were able to weave in a lot of different Greek myths. She's the goddess of both wisdom and war, which is a great contrast, and of course her genesis story (leaping from the head of Zeus!) is brilliant.
Imagining History: As you say, Athena is undoubtedly one of the most popular Greek gods and turns up with a key role in loads of different Greek Myths, was this one of the appealing aspects of writing a story about her?
IsabelG: Yes, absolutely. But also her role in these stories was very different. In some she is an antagonist, in some a positive force. Overall she is very human, and that is what is exciting. She makes mistakes, is petulant, impulsive, silly.
ImogenG: Working out how to weave together the various stories was such a fun part of this project. And as Isabel says, the myths have been written and rewritten so many times, there's a lot of room to be imaginative with the stories and the characters. We created our own journey through all the different myths, but you can look at them in so many different ways, and that's what makes them exciting.
Imagining History: Did you have to conduct historical research in order to develop the story? If so, how did you go about researching ancient mythology?
ImogenG: I started with a few brilliant books on ancient mythology, and then the more I read, the more I saw how many different versions of each story there are, and how much the stories shifted and changed in the oral tradition. That's really exciting as a writer, because it gives you space to put your own spin on things. I read as much as possible, and then at a certain point, we stepped back and had a think about who our Athena was and how she would make her way through these stories. We wanted it to happen mostly through her eyes, even in stories where she isn't traditionally the central protagonist.
Imagining History: What was the weirdest historical fact or mythological piece of trivia that you uncovered during your research?
ImogenG: I really love the mythical creatures, like the Graeae and the Medusa, because there are always such strange details in their back stories which don't always make it onto the page. Many of these creatures have seeped into popular culture and ideas through other books, film and television, and they feel quite familiar to audiences, so it's always exciting to go back to earlier versions for inspiration, and reinvent them all over again.
Imagining History: You've both collaborated on lots of other books set in mythology and history, where did your fascination with the past come from?
Isabel G: We were brought up on history, myths and stories. Our mother is a writer and historian too, and we spent holidays being dragged around the British Museum.
ImogenG: We were definitely given a lot of classics and history to engage with from a young age and we had our own children's books of myths that we loved. I think I always liked how much the lines between history and myth were blurred, and I went on to study history and ancient history at university.
Imagining History: Is it tricky working with your sister? We'd definitely struggle to keep the peace if we had to work on a regular basis with our siblings.
IsabelG: We were very much at odds as children, but by the time we reached adulthood I think we'd got all the conflict out of systems! As kids we really were terrible to each other (we couldn't be left in the same room without coming to blows!) but we've never argued as adults, and working together professionally is very easy. We know each other's working styles and we aren't precious about our roles. I make suggestions with the writing and Imogen makes suggestions about the imagery.
Imagining History: We loved the illustrations, which characters were the most fun to draw?
IsabelG: Athena of course! But also all the grumpy old men like Zeus! I tried to give Zeus a sort of bad-dad pantomime villain vibe.
Imagining History: Do you plan on writing and illustrating any further stories based around other mythological characters?
IsabelG: We have a book coming out about the Goddess Gaia. A sort of Athena prequel.
We. Cannot. Wait. But we must, as that is how time works.
A massive thank you for Imogen and Isabel taking the time out for this interview. Be sure to check out 'Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War' by following this link.