URL: www.widdershinscomic.com
Creator/s: Kate Ashwin
Run: 10/11-current
Schedule: M/W/F
Section/s: Book One, "Sleight of Hand"

Presentation: The book's lightweight and compact, and I estimate it's about 8"-by-6" in size. This makes it easier to store and carry than most comic books, which I consider to be a plus.

The high-quality pages are glossy and in full color, and I didn't experience any problems with the pages or binding. After reading it from cover to cover, the book's still in excellent condition. I don't know what printing service the creator used for the book, but the quality doesn't seem any worse than what I'd expect from a major publisher.

The book has a few pages of concept sketches and extras that, as far as I can tell, aren't available on the Widdershins website. The extras consist of magic-themed gags, and are of a more comical nature than the actual comic.

Writing: The creator's already demonstrated her aptitude for storytelling with her successful fantasy webcomic Darken, and Widdershins shows that her comicking skills have continued to improve since concluding her previous project. This new endeavor is pleasantly sophisticated and original, and it exhibits a refined sensibility that I identify as British charm.

Widdershins conveys an "alternate reality" Victorian setting that feels torn between gritty realism and whimsical supernatural wonder, and the creator does a great job of balancing the optimistic and pessimistic aspects of the story in order to create a mood that's both fun and apprehensive. The differences between the protagonists, Harry and Sid, are also handled very well, and while having completely polar personalities, they have great chemistry as a team. Harry's cynical and disillusioned, but Sid's enthusiasm has a positive effect on her, as if reminding her why she became interested in adventuring in the first place. This sense of contrast is also apparent in Sid's rivalry with Macavity, as they're about as different as possible.

Sidney works well as a protagonist because, while falling under the familiar "lovable loser" archetype, his principal motivation is experiencing as much as possible, which is an unusual and attractive perspective. This explains why he's so high-spirited regardless of whether there's danger or opportunity present, as he's simply eager to experience exotic situations, and the possibility of injury or death only seems to make these experiences seem more special and appealing. By contrast, Harry seems to have experienced too much in her life, and a result, she reacts to these perilous situations in a much more negative manner.

Magic in this setting is handled in a unique way, which is that it's based on emotional energy. A good example of this is when Sid discerns that the train they're riding has been enchanted with "impatience" to make it travel faster. There are also physical embodiments of emotions, like anger and greed, that can be summoned by those with sufficient magical training. It's a cool, subtle alternative to the flashy spellcasting in other settings, although I would've preferred it if the extent of Sid's abilities was a little more coherent. He seems to fluctuate between being a capable student of magic, and being a mundane vagabond (like when he performs normal "magic tricks"), and these distinctions seem to be dictated by the needs of the plot more than anything else.

The weak spot of the writing's the underwhelming romantic subplot, which feels shoehorned into the story. This stems at least partly from the underdeveloped character Florence, who mainly serves as a vehicle to speed up the development of Harry and Sid's relationship, as well as a representation of a "proper" Victorian woman (in obvious contrast to Harry's masculine behavior). I think Widdershins is trying to do too much with its first chapter in this regard, as its 68 pages aren't enough room to have both its self-contained adventure story and a properly paced romance. Two alternative approaches would have been to shift the romantic focus to another book, or to elaborate on the romance but delay the resolution of the central plot till later.

Artwork: The comic's landscape layouts are very unusual, and I don't recall seeing a webcomic oriented in this manner since DC Comics' Zuda Comics project. Widdershins reads like any other comic, though, so the orientation doesn't seem to make much of a difference, if any. I'm actually somewhat surprised now that more webcomics don't design their pages this way.

As for the illustrations, the smooth linework, expressive body language, and intricate environments suggest a level of professionalism rarely seen in webcomics. All the characters have distinct, clever designs, and the creator manages to draw them with a notable degree of consistency. These characters are conveyed through a solid variety of close-ups, medium shots, wide shots, and establishing shots, which helps keeps the story fresh despite the heavy focus on the dialogue between Harry and Sid. There's also a great amount of effort here put into carefully depicting the Victorian setting, and the clothing, architecture, and technology present in the scenes effectively evoke this particular period of history.

Widdershins also has an appealing aesthetic in the way that its cartoony style balances out the dark coloring and heavy shadows. Almost all of the book takes place either at night, or in cloudy, rainy weather, so the simplistic faces and energetic postures help direct the comic towards being a fun fantasy adventure story. Another example of the cartoony direction is how Harry's pipe smoke is shown in unrealistic solid coloring, which builds upon the comic's light, whimsical look. The creator could've easily taken a more noir-ish route with the project given its somewhat dark subject matter, so these creative decisions are important for establishing the creator's intended artistic direction.

Lastly, the fancy font and initials used for Sid's spellcasting and the spirit's dialogue are a nice touch that further adds to the way the comic presents the magical realm with a sense of wondrous excitement.

Overall: Widdershins is a well-executed fantasy story that represents the pinnacle of webcomics. Already well into its second book only nine months after launching, the comic bears all the hallmarks of a professional operation, with the major exception that the creator lets readers browse the entire comic on her website for free. This level of dedication is rarely seen in webcomics, making this a truly special project that every fan of comics should check out.


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