Moth Hush Is The Okay Witch In Emma Steinkellner’s Graphic Novel Debut

by Rachel Bellwoar

I thought I understood it, but it took me a while to grasp the brilliance of the title, The Okay Witch. Perfection isn’t everything. It’s more important to be okay, and it’s important to understand how writer-artist, Emma Steinkellner, defines a “good witch” in her new graphic novel, The Okay Witch, but there’s also the legacy of Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz to consider. Everyone knows the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West, but its time people met the Okay Witch of Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts.

Moth Hush loves magic. She also loves Halloween, and this year she’s decided to “dress for the job [she wants]” and go to school as a witch. At best Hush thought she’d get to go a day without being bullied. She didn’t expect to find out she’s a half-witch but, after showing signs of First Magic, her mom spills the beans, in a wonderfully downplayed scene where you know she’s trying to play it cool but is fully aware of how explosive this will be.
Similar to Steinkellner’s comic, Quince (which was written by her sister, Kit Steinkellner, and created by Sebastian Kadlecik) The Okay Witch explores the relationships between three generations of Hush women. Moth’s mom doesn’t want to practice magic anymore and is happy to live a mortal life. Moth’s grandmother thinks humans can’t be trusted and that Moth should move to Hecate, a witch community she built during the trials.
While not as bad as Hecate, the three-headed goddess, from last year’s Justice League Dark and Wonder Woman crossover, Hecate’s not the utopia it’s cracked up to be, and whenever Moth’s grandmother brings up a “good witch,” in this story, she’s not talking about morality. She’s talking about obedience and talent. Her “good witch” isn’t “good” but a rule follower who is able to meet the other witches’ standards. It’s about control, not doing the right thing, but Moth doesn’t want to ignore her new abilities, either. Both options are imperfect – neither is good or wicked – but how do you make people listen who’ve already made up their minds?
Change doesn’t come easy in The Okay Witch but Steinkellner shows how it’s possible, by forcing the Hush women to talk to each other. It doesn’t always mean they’ll agree but they do come to understand each other better when they know the whole story. Maybe finding out you’re a witch isn’t common but coming up against people with strong opinions is, and it can be very hard to know how to make yourself heard. Moth’s mom and grandmother keep thinking they have to change Moth’s mind but what they really have to do is listen and accept her decision. In a polarizing world, there’s no more important lesson Steinkellner could teach than the power of communication.
Since it’s being taught in a world that has magic, though, Steinkellner’s lessons are playful and full of homages to Judy Bloom and other witch movies. Moth is a half-witch, but she’s more like Kiki than Sabrina. Flounder’s Bluff takes after Vampire Diaries’ Mystic Falls. Grandma has all the disapproval of Bewitched’s Endora but no son-in-law to direct her misplaced aggression. The talking cat is comic relief but also a storytelling device so Steinkellner can cut to the chase.
In one scene, that almost feels like a corrective of I Married A Witch, Moth considers the ethics of helping her best friend, Charlie, with his stage fright and there’s something refreshing about Charlie being the new kid in school, instead of Moth, if only because of this interaction. Charlie tries to explain that he hasn’t made any friends yet because he’s the new kid in town. Moth answers: “I’ve lived here thirteen years and I haven’t really made any friends yet.”
Everyone likes to call teenagers dramatic but Steinkellner’s teenagers are theatrical. It’s not that their emotions are over the top but that they feel deeply, and you can tell that a lot of care went into making all of their facial expressions specific. It’s the same concern you see looking at the photos on the wall or the storefronts on Moth’s street. Steinkellner also uses color to differentiate between characters’ memories and the present. On one level you have Hecate and Founder’s Bluff. Hecate uses pastels, Founder’s Bluff is primed for autumn, but then there’s Hecate in the past and Hecate in the present, and you can tell those two apart by how pale or rich the colors are.
With October less than a week away, there’s no time like the present to start stockpiling your books for Halloween. The Okay Witch is available now from Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

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