Graphic design professor's graphic novel relates Greek Olympians' origins

The front and back cover of the "First There Was Chaos" novel.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Joel Priddy, associate professor and interim head of graphic design in the College of Arts and Artchitecture's Stuckeman School at Penn State, wrote and illustrated a new graphic novel, “First There Was Chaos,” for release by Uncivilized Books in November. Priddy said he based the novel, written for adults, on a selection from Hesiod's “Theogony,” a telling of the origins of the Greek Olympians.

“I was thinking a lot about how the creative process works and some of the mess and difficulty and just iterative cycling that is necessary for that,” he said regarding how he conceived the idea for the novel. “And, at the time, I was reading Greek mythology to my kid as bedtime stories.”

Tomasz Kaczynski, CEO of Uncivilized Books, said he was immediately interested in Priddy's concept about an adaptation of Hesiod's “Theogony.”

“Joel did something extraordinary with the notoriously tricky material; he made it accessible without dumbing it down,” Kaczynski said.

According to Priddy, the book chronicles the time before the Greek gods show up, starting from the point of nothingness and leading up to the birth of the first Olympian we recognize: Aphrodite.

Just like in the origin story, Priddy himself created the graphic novel from his own idea.

“I'm taking the creative arc from nothingness to something that is fully realized,” he said.

“First There Was Chaos” is Priddy's third published graphic novel and his first published by Uncivilized Books. His previously published novels are: “Pulpatoon: Pilgrimage” and “The Gift of the Magi.”

“I love to draw, and I love to write, and the great debate of my childhood was 'Am I gonna be a writer or am I gonna be an artist when I grow up?'” Priddy said. “When I was a little older and I discovered comics, it was this revelation of 'You can do both!'”

Priddy said his favorite feature of the book is a fold-out scroll toward the back where a poet recites a poem.

“[This] let me draw one eight-foot-long uninterrupted panel of everything that is going on in the book,” he said. “I hope that when readers come across it, it is an exciting surprise that engages them with the book in a whole new way.”

Priddy drew and lettered the entire novel by hand and colored his illustrations digitally. He said the book is “bright” and “colorful” but not intended for children due to explicit subject matter.

While the novel won't be released publicly until November, Priddy debuted it at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, on Sept. 9-10.

Schools and Departments: Department of Graphic Design, Stuckeman School
Event Sponsors: Stuckeman School