Interview with Molly Ostertag, Author of The Deep Dark

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jun 5, 2024

Molly Knox Ostertag is an Igntaz- and Prism-Award winning graphic novelist, 30 Under 30 Forbes scholar, and TV writer. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her spouse ND Stevenson. Her middle-grade graphic novel debut, The Witch Boy, came out in 2017 from Scholastic, and is being adapted into a feature film by Netflix. It’s followed by the sequel The Hidden Witch in 2018 and NY Times bestseller The Midwinter Witch in 2019. Her latest book, The Girl From The Sea, debuted as a #1 YA Bestseller on June 1, 2021. Beginning in 2021, she began serializing a new YA graphic novel, Darkest Night, on her newsletter. It was published by Scholastic under the title The Deep Dark on June 4, 2024. She is also the writer of a trilogy of middle-grade Dungeons and Dragons books, Dungeon Club, with illustrator Xanthe Bouma. Molly also writes for children’s TV animation. Notably, she wrote the GLAAD-nominated and Peabody Award Winning episode Enchanting Grom Fright for the Owl House.

I had the opportunity to interview Molly, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! For readers who might not be familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi! I’m Molly Knox Ostertag, a graphic novelist. I’ve written and drawn the middle-grade WITCH BOY series and the young adult romance THE GIRL FROM THE SEA. I also drew the webcomic STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST and am currently writing a D&D middle grade trilogy, DUNGEON CLUB, with illustrator Xanthe Bouma. I write for TV occasionally, including some of the gayest episodes of the first season of THE OWL HOUSE. I also like to cook for my friends, overcommit to themed parties, and hang out in my garden!

What can you tell us about your graphic novel, The Deep Dark? What was the inspiration behind this project?

THE DEEP DARK is the story of Magdalena Herrera – Mags to her friends, if she had any. Instead she has a part time job, an ailing abuela, a complicated affair with a classmate…and a secret that lies beneath the floor of her house, a secret that she must feed her own blood to every night in order to prevent it from escaping and hurting someone else, like it did many years ago. Mags has everything in balance – until a friend from her childhood shows up, wanting to reconnect. Nessa is bright and optimistic, with a few secrets of her own…and she remembers what lives under the floorboards. She was there when it escaped.

As the reconnected friendship blossoms into a romance, Mags will need to face her secret and bring it into the light. It will be a long journey through a deep, dark night, but there’s a chance of a bright dawn at the end.

I was inspired by the landscape of Joshua Tree, where this story is set – a sparse, bleak-seeming desert that is secretly brimming with life. I came up with the very first idea, just a few flashes of imagery, while on a writing retreat with  my spouse there. The graphic novel evolved as I was creating it, of course, but the seed of the idea that began when sitting on a pile of rocks, watching the sun set over the desert, has stayed the same.

As a creator, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the comics medium?

I’ve always had characters and their narratives living in my head. They function as escapism, catharsis, and exploration – usually all of the above. And part of the fundamental process of enjoying these narratives is to get them out of my head and into some other form. Writing was the most accessible way to do this, but there’s something intuitive and subtle about drawing that always attracted me as well. At some point in high school I realized the two mediums could be combined into comics, and it just clicked.

I was lucky enough to start publishing work during a boom in children’s graphic novels, when the idea of the medium was expanding and everyone was realizing comics could be about much more than superheroes – but I think I’d have found my way there no matter what. You can just sit down and make a comic – no pitch, permission, or budget needed (something I’ve come to appreciate the more I also work in film and TV). As someone who is impatient, who needs to make a lot of work, who wants to get the stories out of my head and into reality…it’s been a wonderful creative home.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Of course! I was a hardcore YA fantasy novel kid, always had my nose in a book (we didn’t have much TV in my house). Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jane Yolen, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien all made stories that defined the way I saw the world and crafted my own fantasies.

Now – I’m always searching for that magic book that makes me feel the way I did reading as a kid. A few that have fit the bill: THE LOCKED TOMB series by Tamsyn Muir, PARABLE OF THE SOWER by Octavia Butler, THE SOUTHERN REACH trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, ROOM WITH A VIEW by E. M. Forster, and THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T. H. White.

How would you describe your general creative process?

I would describe myself as an exploratory creator. I know that lots of artists and authors can picture work in their heads before they make it, but for me, both in writing and drawing, I really need to go through the process of making the thing before I know what it is. I’ll begin with flashes – a scene that I really want to draw, a line of dialogue that hits just right, an ending that will be satisfying if I can build up to it well enough. And then I have to fill it all in. I do that through research, writing and rewriting, doodling, talking to people, watching movies and reading books for inspiration, taking naps, taking walks, taking edibles.  Eventually I emerge from this process with the script for a book, and then it’s time to start drawing, when I will discover a thousand other facets of the story.

I’m always trying to trust my gut more, to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and to remove fear and shame from my process. THE DEEP DARK was definitely less planned and more intuitive than my previous books, which is probably why it’s so goddamn long!

As a graphic novelist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest artistic and creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

For graphic novel influences, I was hugely affected by Jaime Hernandez’s work on LOVE AND ROCKETS, especially how his character designs feel so lovingly lived-in. I am always in awe of Emily Carroll’s paneling and emotional storytelling style. And Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s graphic novels have a sense of intimacy and grounding that I’m always trying to emulate.

This is cheesy, but I’m also very influenced by my spouse, ND Stevenson. We talk about stories all the time, about what we want to see and make, what we like and don’t like and why (we’re really annoying to watch movies with for this reason). Being married to him has been an eight year independent study in queer narrative, and he always inspires me to be bolder and more ambitious with my work!

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/illustrating? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

I love drawing the comic because it feels sort of like being an actor, director, and cinematographer rolled into one. Once I’m in the page I discover all these visual nuances to how a character carries themself and talks, things I’d never know how to write but that just make sense visually – and I love figuring out how to control pace and perspective to make the emotional moment hit as hard as possible.

The most frustrating part of the process is turning my script – which I write like a novel, without page breaks or paneling – into comic pages. The two page spread that is inherent to graphic novels can be really limiting. I actually drew THE DEEP DARK as an infinite-scroll webcomic, and even did some light animation, because I wanted to play with format. So the frustration with the two page spread led to some really interesting discoveries!

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

To be honest I’m trying to share less about my life outside of my work. Personal boundaries and all that! But I suppose you should know I have a perfect dog and two perfect cats, including one who sits on my shoulders while I draw.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I’d love for an interviewer familiar with my work to ask some deep questions about my visual creative choices. I’ve had that experience a few times on panels and it’s always really gratifying, because there’s so much thought that goes into comics that we don’t often get the chance to articulate, and indeed not very much language for discussing the visual choices in comics. I guess for THE DEEP DARK, I’d say: pay attention to eyes (when you see them and when they’re covered) and color (when it’s present and when it drops away).

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creatives/ graphic novelists?

Read and watch old things, as well as uncool, unpopular, niche, and unpolished work. You will find so much more inspiration there than in anything produced by a large corporation, I promise. And try every day to banish fear and shame from your creative process. Don’t feel too bad if this is hard – it’s the work of a lifetime, and it is deeply worth it. Finally, just make things. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Literally no one can stop you from putting pen to paper (or stylus to tablet, or fingers to keyboard, whatever) and telling the story you want to. This is terrifying because sometimes it can be comforting to have a reason why you can’t start yet, but as far as I can tell it is the truth.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m drawing one billion comics about Sherlock Holmes stories on my newsletter ( ) because I accidentally got really into the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories. I get these fixations occasionally and need to just ride them out, haha – whatever inspires me to make work is good! I always come out of it with some new ideas about making art and telling stories, and way too many facts about fictional characters.

And the second book in my DUNGEON CLUB graphic novel trilogy, TIME TO PARTY, is coming out July 9!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I’ve dropped a bunch of names in this interview. Here’s a few more queer stories I’ve been enjoying recently, in no particular order: the show HACKS, the upcoming graphic novel I SHALL NEVER FALL IN LOVE by Hari Conner, the novel MAURICE by E. M. Forster, the movie LOVE LIES BLEEDING, and the movie PROBLEMISTA.

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