Women’s History Month: Rachel Smythe by Simon Zuccherato

Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people check in on the newest episode of Lore Olympus. It’s by far the most popular English-language series on Webtoon, a popular platform for webcomics, and has over 4.8 million subscribers. Each episode easily breaks 200,000 likes. It’s been going strong for three years now, and has physical collections in the works.

Behind it all is one woman from New Zealand: Rachel Smythe.

She’s the creator of the Greek mythology-focused series, which retells the story of The Taking of Persephone. It’s the first English Webtoon series to get a release on the Korean platform, the original version of the site, in addition to being released in French, Spanish, and Japanese.

Smythe’s previous work was published through Tumblr and DeviantArt, and while they were modest successes, they were nothing like the huge success that Lore Olympus would become.

Part of that can be attributed to the large audiences that the Webtoon platform brings, but there’s no denying that Smythe has brought her best to Lore Olympus. She’s been a fan of Greek mythology since childhood, and it comes through in her work. She understands how to modernize these characters and make them relatable, while still making them unique from their other popular modern incarnations (such as in the works of Rick Riordan).

Lore Olympus stands out due to these well-rounded characters and instantly recognizable art style. Each of the gods is associated with a separate colour, which not only helps to make the characters visually distinct but provides a great visual shorthand to highlight when characters feel comfortable or feel out of their element.

In fact, colour plays such an important role in making Lore Olympus the success that it is that Smythe was nominated for a 2019 Ringo Award for Best Colorist. She may have lost to Tamra Bonvillain, but it’s notable that a Webtoon artist was even nominated for a major award, as comics awards are usually focused on creators from the direct market.

Lore Olympus is also able to deal with sensitive topics deftly. As a sexual assault survivor herself who was put off by the sexual assault depictions that she had seen in pop culture, Smythe found it important to tell a story that matched her experience and could help other survivors work through their hurt and pain.

Smythe’s success story is a testament to the power of webcomics, where a series from a relative unknown can reach out to millions. And it’s paid off; there’s a deal with the Jim Henson Company to adapt Lore Olympus into an animated series, and while it’s yet to be seen if the series will come to fruition it’s an exciting time to be a Lore Olympus fan.

Her work is important to me because it speaks to the reach of comics as a medium. Lore Olympus is a great access point for new comic readers; with its millions of followers, some of your friends are probably also already fans. Plus, it deals with material that many are also probably familiar with in Greek mythology.

There are almost definitely thousands of people who have never followed a serialized comic series before who are dedicated to Lore Olympus, and that thought makes me smile. Comics have a huge potential as a storytelling medium, and seeing more people discover that potential means a lot to me.

Seven months into its second season of two (or maybe three), Lore Olympus is still far from complete. Hades and Persephone are far from the end of their story. And yet, the future for Smythe seems wide open. After all, with millions of readers, Smythe should have the freedom to do whatever she wants after Lore Olympus’ conclusion.

I’m excited to see what new stories she comes up with next.

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