5 minutes with Kay O’Neill

ComicFest 2022 is Saturday 7 May — and this year will be fully online! Find the full programme on our ComicFest website. ComicFest is a joint venture between Wellington City Libraries and the National Library of New Zealand.

ComicFest 2022 website

Meet the artists with our “5 minutes with…” series! First up on the blog we have an interview with Kay O’Neill, an author and illustrator from Christchurch, best known for their work on the award-winning Tea Dragon Society series. They mostly write slices of life with fantasy elements. Their favourite tea is currently vanilla rooibos. 

Website: ktoneill.com
Twitter: @strangelykatie
Instagram: @strangelykatie


Q: What first got you interested in comics?

I was fortunate to have dial-up internet early enough to be deep into the neopets.com craze as a kid, and a big part of that was the rich creative community that formed around the virtual pet-raising game. The in-game weekly digital newspaper featured both ongoing storylines and one-off gag comics, and really got me started viewing comics as a natural way of expressing stories and characters from a young age.

Q: What is your average day like?

I try to balance work and rest as best I can. Mornings give me good energy, so I try to get up at around 7.30 and have a solid, uninterrupted morning of work until lunchtime, with some coffee and stretch breaks throughout. I’ll put on some music, and that helps me get the most of the time I spend in front of the tablet or computer. The afternoons I leave up to fate- occasionally I have energy to continue working, but often I’ll do some gardening or go for a walk.

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?

The final book in the Tea Dragon series came out in 2021. It was bittersweet to end a series that has been such a huge part of my life, yet I am very happy with how the book turned out and with each character’s journey. It feels like saying goodbye to old friends, but with excitement for what lies ahead in store for them. I also have a couple of exciting new projects that hopefully will be announced soon!

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?

I used to divide my attention between my work and a background activity such as watching a Netflix series or video game streamer. However, after I decided to try going a couple of weeks just listening to music while I work, I discovered how much more connected I feel to what I’m doing! I’m able to make better decisions, and feel like I’m getting the most from my art. I know it’s different for everyone though, and I have friends who can only focus if there’s a secondary activity playing. I think it’s important to experiment with various working environments, and keep changing and adjusting and learning what you like.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?

At the moment, I’m looking for a lot of inspiration and motivation outside of the art world. I love hearing stories of older people who have lived active, engaged and meaningful lives through their daily activities, connection with nature, and community.

Q: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?

New Zealand webcomic authors are making incredible things at the moment! Rachel Smythe, Jem Yoshioka, Chelsey Furedi and Kale de Wild just to name a few.

Q: What is your dream comic project?

I’m very lucky in that I’ve already pretty much made it- The Tea Dragon series is exactly what I wanted it to be, with so much wonderful support from my publisher and readers. I’ve never needed to compromise anything, and it’s full of the elements and themes I love most. That said, I’d love to work on something collaborative in future!