ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies

ISSN: 1549-6732
Home » Vol. 10 , No. 3 » Articles »

Review of Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology

By Taylor D.N. Daigneault
Gil, Joamette, ed. Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology. P & M Press, 2017.

Crowdfunded through a Kickstarter campaign, Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology is the first publication from Power & Magic Press under the editorial leadership of founder, Joamette Gil. The comic anthology boasts that it features fifteen short stories from seventeen women, demigirls, and bigender creators of colour (Gil, Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology) and that each story features queer witches of colour. At its heart, this collection is an exploration of intersectional identities and fantastic settings. The contributing cartoonists’ use of multimodal communication strategies in comics to enhance the impact of their narrative devices and to purposely include or exclude specific audiences from fully participating with their texts is especially interesting. The collection includes illness and healing narratives from cartoonists who are less invested in the mechanics of modality, as well as stories that serve to highlight the experiences of specific demographics within the population of “queer witches of colour.”

Power & Magic Press has published two comic anthologies under Gil’s editorial leadership. Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology was the first to be published in January of 2017 and Power & Magic: Immortal Souls was crowdfunded later in the year before its March 2018 release. The Press is currently shipping print copies of its third anthology, Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, which raised 160% of the funding goal set by Power & Magic Press through their original Kickstarter (“Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy”).

Gil, the editor in chief of Power & Magic Press, ensures that the table of contents in every publication includes content warnings “to facilitate reader autonomy and safety” (Gil, “‘Queer Witches of Color’ Anthology Power & Magic Returns with New Volume”). Of the fifteen stories in The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, five include warnings that encompass themes such as self-harm, terminal cancer, misgendering, and blood (Gil, Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology 3). By including these warnings, Gil practices an ethics of care for her readership. She asserts that the contents of the anthology are not intended to disrupt or traumatize their audience while allowing her contributors to explore content that some people may find difficult to read.

The first story in the anthology, “Convolvere” (Salume 5-8), serves as an introduction to the collection. Using first-person narration, the comic follows a witch who the narrator conspiratorially recognises is “working on something” (5). On the final page of the comic (8), it is revealed that her spell is really the magic of everyone coming together to create something new, or as the narrator phrases it: “… In truth, we were the spell.” This scene of witches coming together to form a coven, while cliché—relying on a common trope in which friends combine their energy to create something more powerful than they individually could have achieved, serves as an analogue to the contributors in the anthology.

Within the anthology, only a few cartoonists actively engage with comics’ multimodality—the integration of multiple semiotic modes of communication (Kress and Van Leuwen 177). Some of the strongest works in the collection, “Songbird for a Vulture” (Franquiz) and “Def Together” (fydbac) use the relationship between text, image, and (in the case of “Def Together”) gesture. These multimodal elements serve to enhance the narrative of the comics. Franquiz uses the modes in their comic to focus on the dichotomy of trauma and healing while fydbac uses multimodality to enhance the sensation of disability.

Multimodality in Franquiz’ “Songbird for a Vulture” informs the theme of personal healing after trauma. The narration, dialogue, and images are responsible for creating and maintaining recurring metaphors to track the protagonist’s self-concept. As part of the opening sequence, Franquiz’ protagonist describes herself as an oak tree whose “branches twist and reach” but only ever attract vultures (163-164). The text of the monologue in this sequence is superimposed over a panel of the protagonist’s bleeding hands, extended upwards, followed by a shot of the character on her knees against a black backdrop composed of numerous crows with the text “and I still feel no sun” layered over her (164). Crows represent the people that hurt this character before escape, after which she meets a waitress named Dahlia (168). Dahlia’s introduction to the comic disrupts the dark gutters, which are composed of a murder of crows extending from the opening sequence (161). When the protagonist meets Dahlia at a diner, the panels in the sequence break so that the focal point is what appears to be a dove, emanating white light in the darkened central gutter (168). This sequence of panels begins with the protagonist casting a small fireball in her hands while sitting at a booth in a diner. Dahlia places a slice of pie on the table, which surprises the protagonist, who hurriedly dispels the fireball. Dahlia responds by casting a ball of light in one hand, while putting the index finger of her other hand to her lips. The gutter between the protagonist casting the fireball and Dahlia placing the pie on the table contains the text “discovery” in the darkness above the dove, and the word “acceptance” below the dove and between the panels in which the protagonist recognises that Dahlia noticed her witchcraft and responds by mimicking the spell, revealing that she herself is a witch as well (168). Without the text, this sequence would be nearly unchanged on a visual level. Including the text allows Franquiz to create a more specific interpretation of the sequence that also addresses an ongoing motif in the comic, where the protagonist asks questions that frame the four seasons of the character’s growth. In this case, “discovery” and “acceptance” answer the question “what warms?” (168).

Figure 1. The black background, composed of a murder of crows, is broken by a white central panel with a dove at its focal point. From: Franquiz, Naomi. “Songbird for a Vulture.” Gil, editor, p. 168.
Figure 1. The black background, composed of a murder of crows, is broken by a white central panel with a dove at its focal point. From:Franquiz, Naomi. “Songbird for a Vulture.” Gil, editor, p. 168.

As the protagonist develops a friendship with Dahlia and many other kind witches, the crows-as-gutters effect disappears, alongside her concern that everyone around her is a “vulture.” In meeting the other witches, the protagonist recognises that instead of vultures, these witches “are robins and doves… songbirds” who celebrate her with their songs (170-171). While “Songbird for a Vulture” is clearly a narrative of trauma and recovery, it is also a queer narrative. The “discovery” and “acceptance” in the diner booth serve as an allegory for queer people recognizing each other in solidarity. In this comic, Dahlia becomes a love interest to the protagonist, and the comic ends with Dahlia teaching her how to conjure fire more positively. They create a phoenix feather together (173), symbolizing the protagonist’s rebirth from “what burns” (161) to “what heals” (172). Franquiz builds this transition upon the interaction between internal monologue and visual design.

In an approach that focuses less on text and more on the combination of gesture and image, fydbac’s comic includes no narration and only one balloon of dialogue, in which fydbac depicts the main character’s perception of reality. The protagonist of “Def Together”[1] is either deaf or hard of hearing, so speech balloons from other characters are populated with scribbles rather than text. The only legible dialogue comes from the protagonist at the end of the comic, but fydbac includes Sign Language in the piece, meaning readers who know Sign Language could conceivably decode some elements of the conversations between characters.

This element of fydbac’s comic is among the most exciting examples of representation in The Queer Witch Comics Anthology. The ideal reader[2] of “Def Together” is bilingual in English and Sign Language. Such a reader could genuinely identify with fydbac’s protagonist. Recognizing that this anthology is not marketed as a collection of disability narratives, there must also be an assumed reader, who likely only has a tangential connection to Sign Language, if even that.[3] The assumed reader is still able to access the comic, but at a comprehension level that is lower than the “ideal” comprehension level. The intersection of disability in “Def Together” can force readers who are not deaf or heard of hearing to experience exclusion in a way that people with disabilities often do.

My focus on “Def Together” is not meant to exclude other comics in the collection that focus on illness and disability. “Te Perdi” from Maria Llorens and Devaki Neogi, for example, is a narrative that carries a content warning for terminal cancer. In the comic, Mari attempts to heal her partner, Adela, of her cancer through prayer to orishas (66-69). Mari decides to take her requests directly to Yeguá, a goddess of death and decomposition who grants Mari’s request with the caveat that Adela would only be cured if she forgets about Mari and the two never go near each other again (70, 74). Mari agrees to this deal, not knowing that Adela had followed her to Yeguá’s mausoleum, immediately voiding the deal and forfeiting Adela’s life (76-79). “Te Perdi” is foundationally different than “Def Together,” in that the goal of the text is not politically invested in accessibility for people with disabilities. Llorens and Neogi tell the story from the perspective of somebody who knows that their partner is ill but is in denial about their inevitable death. Mari dismisses her grandmother’s assertion that not every prayer is answered because “she’s an immigrant” and just wants Mari “to be strong” in the face of Adela’s illness (68). Mari ignores the goddess of death, Yeguá, who tells Mari that even though Adela may not deserve to die, she will anyway, as that is “the way it works. It will always be that way,” regardless of what Mari wants to believe (72). Even Adela herself tells Mari not to worry about her (65) and is upset after Mari makes the deal with Yeguá, seeing it as a selfish ploy on Mari’s part, as the deal prevents them from being together when she passes away (76). It is a moral tale that carries a message similar to Aatmaja Pandya’s story “You’ll Know When it’s Time to Go.” While Pandya’s comic carries an entirely different tone, neither their work, nor the work of Llorens and Neogi needs to incorporate the same modal disruption that fydbac uses to communicate their messages.

My interests in this collection have been primarily focused on comics that disrupt the medium in productive and novel ways. Because of this, “Songbird for a Vulture” and “Def Together” are the comics that I find most exciting to write about. Had I chosen to dedicate more space to discuss the political mission of telling stories about characters with intersectional gender, sexual, and racial identities that differ from the prevailing expectation of characters who are cis, straight, and white, I would have focused more intently on comics like Ann Xu’s “After the Dust Settles.” Xu’s comic follows a young witch named Jia who is gifted her late grandmother’s spellbook (55). Upon realizing that she has no living relatives who speak her grandmother’s first language, Jia attempts to learn enough of the language to recreate a spell to call her grandmother’s spirit for help (58-62). The richness of the line “generations of magical tradition and knowledge, passed down through family and coming to an end now. All because I can’t even read it properly” is an anthem for people who have lost access to their ancestral languages through the violence of colonialism (63).  Likewise, I would have focused more attention on Veronica Agarwal’s “Fluid,” which features a two-gender witch whose internalized gender expectations impact upon their magical abilities. Stories such as these demonstrate how The Queer Witch Comics Anthology from Power and Magic Press is an important part of a new wave of crowdfunded, crowdsourced, literary anthologies constructed as a means of self-representation for specific communities. This canon includes works like Hope Nicholson’s Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology, and Gwen Benaway’s upcoming Maiden, Mother, and Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes. Every time I re-read this anthology, I am reminded of the power and magic of representation. Gil’s work in editing the collection is bound to attract rigorous analysis from scholars interested in culture, race, gender, and the roles that queer identities play in literature.

Notes

[1] “Def Together” is not paginated

[2] I borrow this term from Candida Rifkind, who once used it to describe the experience of reading We Stand On Guard (Vaughn, Skroce, Hollingsworth, & Fonografiks), as a monolingual English speaker and reader.

[3] I fall into this category.

Works Cited

Agarwal, Veronica. “Fluid.” Gil, editor, pp. 46-53.

Franquiz, Naomi. “Songbird for a Vulture.” Gil, editor, pp. 161-174.

fydbac. “Def Together.” Gil, editor, pp. 91-104.

Gil, Joamette, editor. Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology. Power & Magic Press, January, 2017.

---. Interview by Steve Morris. “‘Queer Witches of Color’ Anthology Power & Magic Returns with New Volume.” CBR, 19 July, 2017, www.cbr.com/power-magic-immortal-souls-joamette-gil-interview/. Accessed 2 Aug, 2018.

“Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy.” Backerkit, 4 September, 2018, https://www.backerkit.com/projects/131668411/heartwood-non-binary-tales-of-sylvan-fantasy/. Accessed 30, September 2018.

Kress, Gunther and Theo Van Leeuwen. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. ProQuest Ebook Central. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2005.

Llorens, Maria and Devaki Neogi. “Te Perdi.” Gil, editor, pp. 65-80.

Pandya, Aatmaja. “You’ll Know When It’s Time To Go.” Gil, editor, pp. 133-139.

Salume, Jemma. “Convolvere.” Gil, editor, pp. 5-8.

Xu, Ann. “After the Dust Settles.” Gil, editor, pp. 54-64.

 © 2019 Taylor D.N. Daigneault (all rights reserved). This essay is the intellectual property of the author and cannot be printed or distributed without the author's express written permission other than excerpts for purposes consistent with Fair Use. The layout and design of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons License to ImageTexT; note that this applies only to the design of this page and not to the content itself.

All content is (c) ImageTexT 2004 - 2020 unless otherwise noted. All authors and artists retain copyright unless otherwise noted.
All images are used with permission or are permissible under fair use. Please see our legal notice.

ImageTexT is published by the Department of English at the University of Florida.