Molly Ostertag’s middle grade graphic novel, Witch Boy, is finding new ground. The story centers on Aster, a boy from a rigidly organized magical society that exists within our own world. Here, boys are only allowed to learn shapeshifting, and girls learn only witchcraft. Aster’s interest in the forbidden magic of witches is a clear metaphor for coming out as trans or queer, but the message blends seamlessly into the fantasy setting.
Ostertag was originally sparked by thinking about Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness fantasy series, in which a girl dresses as a boy to become a knight. “There are a lot of books about girls wanting masculine strength, but not the reverse,” she says. “I knew a lot of amazing boys and people assigned male at birth who are transgender or genderqueer and want to have the flexibility to explore feminine things without being stigmatized. I have a very clear idea of the kind of kids that this book is for, and I hope it gives them some kind of safe space while they are reading it.”
As one might guess from her seemingly effortless art and storytelling, Ostertag showed early talent. While still in her sophomore year at SVA, she and a friend named Brandon Lee Mulligan came up with the idea for Strong Female Protagonist, an ongoing webcomic that plays on tropes of action comics. And soon after graduation, she signed up with First Second to adapt Shattered Warriors, Sharon Shinn’s unpublished SF novel.
For now, Ostertag shows no signs of slowing down. She has a day job as a designer on the Disney animated show Star vs. the Forces of Evil. Witch Boy has already been optioned as an animated film by Fox, and she’s at work on the sequel, The Hidden Witch, which comes out in fall 2018.
But it’s drawing that has her excited now. “I’ve found a new love for comics recently, and I just want to make more fantasy comics with an emotional and moral center.”