Witchy by Ariel Ries is a fantastic webcomic and I’m excited to be reviewing it as my first post. Other than the occasional, Cyanide and Happiness I see on social media, Witchy was the first webcomic that I read and it has set a high standard for me on what webcomics can be. The story takes place in the mystical land of Hyalin where everyone in the kingdom obtains magical powers and the strength of a person’s power is correlated to the length of their hair. The longer the hair, the stronger the power and more desired you are to work for the kingdom. However, if your hair is longer than normal you are deemed a threat and thus, taken away by authorities. The story follows the main protagonist, Nyneve, a young woman whose father was taken away when she was a child for having hair too long. Nyneve has grown up disliking the kingdom and not wanting to serve them in any way, however, her hair is the longest among her peers. Therefore, she masks her hair and makes it shorter out of both defiance, and fear. That is essentially the premise of the comic upon reading the first couple of pages. There are NOT any spoilers within this posts.
First to be noted about Witchy, is the wonderful art style. Each panel contains a beautiful array of pastel colors that complement each other very well. The colors along with the imagery chosen gives the scenes a serene feeling that aid in showcasing the mystical nature of the comic. Also, the peaceful feeling is often contrasted with scenes of heavy action and conflict. That dichotomy creates some unease that further aids in the tension that derives from the action. Overall, each panel is well designed and composed, and that makes each page a joy to experience.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of witches and read/watch a lot of content that contains them as a central focus. Therefore, I may be biased in saying that I enjoy the story of Witchy. However, in addition to the art style, the content is very well written and the story is original. The premise of hair being correlated to the strength of power is a unique concept. The author states that the decision to do this does not create a discrimination based on race, gender, physical or mental disability, etc. That being said, one of the first thoughts that I had when reading about the comic was how the author would handle black characters if there were any. While there are characters of darker complexions, all the characters are Asian/Oceanic as stated by Ries. Because, the concept of the webcomic involves hair length and not hair type/styles, I don’t have any ill intent in discussing the complexities of black people and their hair. It’s simply a realm I would have liked to see be explored.
Hair is often politicized and in some cases, policed by those in authority. Specifically looking at black people, our hair is often ridiculed and looked down upon for being different. This has created a long and complex history relating to black hair and how it’s viewed by us and people of other races. As mentioned before, Nyneve places a spell on her hair in order to not draw unwarranted attention to herself. This reminds me of the common practice to relax (a chemical process that permanently straightens the curls in hair) black hair and/or wearing a weave/wig in order to appeal to a more European standard. Nyneve is afraid to show her “real” hair, because she doesn’t want to be a spectacle or taken by the kingdom for being a threat. This form of discrimination really struck a chord for me that I believe a lot of other black people would agree upon. In a time of police brutality and racial profiling, the physical features of a black individual are sometimes viewed as a threat. And hair can play a major role in that. For black people, sometimes wearing your hair naturally puts your “blackness” on display and it can be very othering. Sometimes people view you as an abstract piece of art or on the flipside, it’s viewed as being too black and people can place negative assumptions about who you are. Either way, in some cases, black people are placed in a position of having unwarranted attention and/or prejudice placed on us purely because of the hair that grows out of our head. It’s unclear to me in the world of Witchy, whether the length of your hair is luck based, or if family lineage or vigor of training affect it. However, as of now it appears to be out of one’s control on how long or short their hair naturally is. While Ries stating that she chose hair to be the bases of discrimination vs. race, gender, etc. is a commendable effort, it’s not entirely black and white (pun intended). There’s a lot of nuance that I think would be interesting to see explored throughout the webcomic.
At the time of writing, the comic is still being produced and Ries releases a new page every week. You can view the whole comic on the personal website: Witchy Comic.