By Kate Ashwin
I settled down with Widdershins with a genuine sense of anticipation, as I’d seen the webcomic, seen Kate Ashwin’s Kickstarter for Volume 2, and filed the comic away in the bit of my brain that’s meant to remember all the great webcomics I will eventually get around to. I didn’t. I never do. Oh, for a 36-hour day. And a memory that works.
Luckily, Ashwin got in touch and reminded me. That’s why I’m looking at it. Well, that and the fact that there were some really nice print versions as well. I can’t help it, print still beats digital for any long form work here.
Hopefully from the covers and the art I’m going to show you you can tell it’s a lot of fun. Frankly just the formatting fills me with a nostalgic joy; A5 landscape instantly takes me back to the Fred Bassett collections in dad’s study when I was a kid. But nowadays, the way a lot of people do webcomics, it actually makes a lot of sense to use the format once more. (See this from Warren Ellis last year)
Widdershins is a lot of fun, and shows lots of ambition. Basic concept is quirky and cutesy in equal measure; think comedy steampunk Victoriana, and then chuck in a Harry Potter-ish magical element, and then build a world around all that.
Volume 1 focuses on failed wizard Sidney Malik, who’s definitely having a bad time of it. He’s been kicked out of wizarding University, on account of being a touch crap, and is about to have his day go from bad to much, much worse…
And oh, but it all gets worse, not only is the lightfingered pickpocket stealing off with Sidney’s wallet, he’s also dropped the second-rate wizard into a heap of trouble. Thanks to a small … problem… Sidney comes into accidental possession of the ancient relic that marks the wearer as the King Of Thieves.
Oh dear. You can see where it’s going eh? Hi-jinks and capers ensue, as Sidney finds himself travelling with pipe-smoking bounty hunter Harriet Barber to unravel the troublesome mystery around the ancient magics wrapped around Sidney’s wrist.
It was great, great fun, a really neatly delivered romp, with a couple of quirky leads who spark nicely off each other doing the classic police procedural unconventional comedy partners in adventure sort of thing.
And frankly, that’s what I was expecting from the second volume as well, the continued adventures of Sidney and Harriet. Which would have been fine and dandy to be honest.
But Ashwin has a lot more ambition than just wanting to be someone writing a webcomic two-handed sitcom. So when the second volume starts with almost no connection to the characters and events of the first it’s a refreshing, pleasant surprise. Ashwin ditches what she’d built up with the first, and instead begins worldbuilding, creating a whole fictional saga, populated by funny, interesting people.
Second volume features Jack O’Malley, who sees spectres other cannot, and may just be the man required to solve a mystery of wizards unable to keep their eyes open, and whose half-formed spells are causing spectral chaos throughout Widdershin.
Again, it’s a team story, this time a threesome; O’Malley, his German violinist partner in crime and a very fussy, not all that good wizard. They’re thrown together by Council Member Fairbairn, who wants them to sort the problem out…
So yes, Widdershins is a really fun, and Ashwin surprises by doing the more difficult thing and does a good job of making the world of Widdershins rather than concentrating on the same characters each time. Her cartooning is fresh, lively, and just looks good.
But it’s not without problems. Nothing insurmountable. Story in both books is hardly dense, and especially in volume two, the ending and villain’s reveal was telegraphed so far off. Her cartooning may look fun, but especially in volume one there are times Ashwin makes it harder to read than she should.
Remember that recent Eddie Campbell post about modern comics being too hard to read, a problematic lack of the grammar of comics going round like a nasty viral infection? Well it shows up here multiple times, usually though poor panel composition, and especially in a confusion regrading speech balloon placement. All too often in book 1 there were mistakes; balloons crossing, speech seeming to come from the wrong source.
However, frustrating errors can be worked over, inexperience gets better with experience, and the second volume does show that Ashwin is more than capable of improvement.
All in all, Widdershins is a great strip, loads of fun, the few problems easily overcome, overwhelmed by the enjoyment. Both print volumes are available from Ashwin’s store, and a third volume; No Rest For The Wicked, is currently serialising at the Widdershins site.