Witchy the webcomic has been published online by Ariel Slamet Ries since 2014. And as such, it’s one of any number of webcomics I haven’t managed to keep up with, despite my best intentions. However, thanks to Lion Forge, there’s now a first print collection coming out in September that’s a must to catch up with this fabulously magical story.
In the witch kingdom of Hyalin, the strength of your magic is determined by the length of your hair. And if you have the hair and the skills, you’ll end up as part of the kingdom’s Witch Guard, protectors and warriors, under the command of the Viceroy Jung, whose public face of kindness masks a harder edge.
Young Nyneve knows the harder side of the kingdom all too well, her father was one of those with hair too long, deemed a threat to the kingdom and killed when she was young. It’s no wonder she’s none too keen on being forced to join the Witch Guard in the latest round of conscriptions…
Very quickly in Witchy we’re deep into a delightful adventure. Yes, it’s one that uses a lot of familiar tropes and ideas, with all the magical school elements, the contest elements to conscription, that sort of thing, but it’s also something that’s so well done it really doesn’t matter.
What makes Witchy so enjoyable is Ries’ creation of a fascinating character in Nyneve, a witch whose magical abilities are bottom of the class, despite a great tactical magical brain. Her father’s death makes her passionately anti-establishment, so much so that she goes out of her way to disguise the thing that could make her a highly desired asset of Viceroy Jung.
And how we discover that is an example of the artistic talent on display, with Ries’ visual shorthand doing so much more than massive amounts of exposition could achieve…
The mystery is how her magic is so poor despite her hair length, something explored later on. But first she needs to get through conscription which, predictably, goes very badly for her. It goes so badly that she does the one thing that a witch with her hair is never meant to do, something so shocking that it leads to her running from Jung and the Witch Guard, fearful for her life…
And it’s this desperation, the need to flee, that drives the book from the mid-point of chapter three onwards, as a desperate and powerless Nyneve runs from Jung, runs from her problems, runs from her past, and potentially tries to escape a future foretold by her one constant companion, the strange, talkative raven called Ba-nana.
This first book of Witchy is a delightful read, and benefits hugely from being webcomic first, print second. Like so many other creators publishing online, Ries has taken advantage of the far-reduced costs of publishing to allow her work to flow totally naturally, taking whatever time it needs to do what it has to do. The opening chapters, with Nyneve in school, are detailed yet open and expansive, lots of time allowed to get to know the cast of characters, time to establish the rules and politics of this world we’re in now.
Yet, when it comes time to show action, as Nyneve and her mother attempt to escape the Witch Guard, the next 30 pages or so are one long, hyper-compressed rush of Nyneve running, away from Jung, away from magic, and into surprising parts of the realm.
It’s a beautiful, organic, light art style that suits both slow and fast-paced work, and Ries’ first Witchy book is real visual delight as well as one telling an interesting, entertaining story.
The real clincher for Witchy, at least for me, is my webcomic test. As I say, I’m terrible at keeping up with webcomics, not through a dislike of them, just from a lack of time and print generally gets first look when reviewing. However, for a great book that’s come from a webcomic, I know it’s something special if I finish the book and immediately head online to continue reading. And that’s just what happened with Witchy. Ariel Slamet Ries has made something I’ll definitely be keeping up with, something I’ll hopefully be seeing book two of soon.
Witchy Volume 1 – by Ariel Slamet Ries, published by Lion Forge on 4 September. The book contains chapters 1-4, but you can also visit Witchy online at witchycomic.com to read it as it updates, and it’s now (at time of writing this) a few pages into chapter 6.
Get the book. Then keep going. I did… it’s getting better and better! Below are a couple of non-spoilery pages from the later chapters, as well as a teaser for her new art style…