Witch Girls and Witch Girls Adventures

I’ve added a new section to my website about a series of Witch Girls comics and a role-playing game called Witch Girls Adventures. I’ve been engaged with the community in the last few days, and have collected a bunch of my thoughts together for this section of my site. (It’s another section about a game, like my previous pages about Risus: The Anything RPG.)

I originally ran into the comics in 2003, when I was exploring a few independent and self-published titles. At that time, there were two titles in the series, and only one issue of each. The first title was Witch Girls and was about a circle of young girls who were all witches at a boarding school. (Come on, seriously, do you really need to know anything more than just that? But, to continue …) But, the two main characters were a matched pair of cute witches, but where one was nice the other was not. The interesting twist was that these two lead witches in the series were cast against type, so the nice witch, Janette, was the typically gothic looking young girl with dark hair and heavy eyeliner and dark clothes. And, the not so nice witch, Annabelle, had the appearance of a stereotypical goody-goody with masses of curly blonde hair and fancy dresses with lace. (Now that I think about it, Annabelle’s appearance and attitude is not that dissimilar to Nellie from the Little House stories and TV show, just, um, with magic.) The second title, Witch Girls Tales, was devoted to stories that were illustrated by various guest artists and didn’t quite fit into the main story of the other title.

After those first two issues, I lost track of the title and slowly forgot about them. At least until the other day, on some search engine safari or another, I ran into a few pages about a new role-playing game called Witch Girls Adventures, and had a strong sense that I’d seen the logo before. As I read the materials, I became even more convinced that I’d run into this before somewhere.

Further searching and reading brought me up to speed with the history of the original stories, and the subsequent revival in the game. But, I still wasn’t sure until I dug out, of one of the boxes my library is still in, the issues I’d picked up back in 2003 of the original titles.

The creator has several interviews online about his work trying to bring the story of Annabelle, Janette and the other Witch Girls to the public through the comics and then through a movie deal which apparently collapsed just before starting to film. There’s an interview with Malcolm Harris over at Sequential Tart where he talks about some of that history. (I noticed that one of the young actresses who was cast in the film still lists the movie on her website.)

Well, now it’s a new day. There’s a whole lot of activity again. I have to say I really respect the resilience and perseverance displayed by Malcolm Harris and his team in keeping the light alive and working to bring this to the public. Not only is there a revival for Witch Girls Tales, but that’s an adjunct to a role-playing game aimed at an essentially ignored demographic, young girls with no prior role-playing game experience. Further, there’s an additional title and even, once again, talk about a movie.

Only this time, the Witch Girls are a different circle of friends at a different school. And, the casting against type has essentially fallen by the wayside, because one of the key characters, who is closest in (bad) attitude to sweet-looking Annabelle, is portrayed visually with a look more akin to Janette this time around. There’s still an ensemble, but the core duo has apparently been narrowed down to the solo Princess Lucinda. The inversion is gone. Now there’s less rhetorical and visual distance than there was from other dark, moody girls with visual representations. (And, like when Geordi, the blind helmsman, moved to engineering, even though it resulted in better things, there’s still a loss of the original twist to be mourned.) Harris mentions in the front-matter to the Witch Girls Tales, Vol. 1, Iss. 2 [also] that the original Witch Girls are still around, and might make an appearance. Annabelle and Janette are not forgotten, by any means. So, there’s still a chance for more feminist deconstruction of the buddy film genre, with a heaping side of gender-heroic witch.

Princess Lucinda Nightbane is one of the Witch Girls at the new school, but she’s also an exiled princess. Lucinda was exiled from her home planet when her tyrannical family was overturned in a revolution, and now lives on Earth. She’s also essentially a bad girl, except that she, like Annabelle before her, is more amoral and ambiguous than simply bad. Neither character was pure evil, but rather more interesting than that. There’s room for growth and a character development arc for these characters while still having a delightfully mean streak. This is a form of vicarious revenge. It’s the kind of thrill in watching people get the kind of comeuppance they richly deserve or, you know, on occasion, just randomly end up in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong witch. (A delicious concoction of 1 part schadenfreude to 1 part STFU, with a shot of green fairy on the bomb.) Princess Lucinda is really an anti-hero par excellence. I mean, really, if only you could, how often would you turn someone into a toad or, better yet, into a cigarette and smoke them to a cinder? I know! At least every freakin’ day, right?

You can get a quick idea of what I’m talking about if you gander at the preview comic available for download as a PDF at the Witch Girls Adventures website. This is basically issue zero in the six issue series that’s being worked on right now, and will be available for order and physical delivery from the comics store at the website, and it’s a great example of what might be in store as it pokes fun at the Harry Potter franchise and shows off to full effect the out of control Lucinda playing havoc with things around her.

When the six-issue series is available it will be at the main website for physical delivery and may also, as are several other game and comic materials already, be available via download in PDF format from a retailer like DriveThruRPG. Some free introductory materials are available, like the tongue-trippingly named Witch Girls Adventures Star Creation Guide, so you can get a taste for what the game is like.

Not only does Princess Lucinda live a life of her own in the comics, game and maybe soon in her own movie; but, she also engages in online discussions such as in the comments to reviews. Too bad I don’t allow comments on my blog, and it’s almost enough to make me want to turn on comments just in case … but, only almost.

The original first issues of the two comic titles, Witch Girls and Witch Girls Tales, are still available online via at least one retailer, and maybe other retailers as well. Apparently there’s five more issues in these titles, but as far as I can tell the only way to get them is to find Malcolm Harris at a convention. There’s only two boxes of the original Witch Girls left, so while hard to get now, these will become impossible to get soon; especially as the re-launch of the second title as a tie-in to the game, the game and the new Princess Lucinda title all get more and more publicity and exposure. This publicity and exposure is likely to get to some kind of fever pitch if the movie plans for Princess Lucinda pan out.

There are several supplements, a quarterly in-character magazine, and other materials in the works as well as the mentioned possibility for a movie. Yeah, it’s a freakin’ nascent empire. This could be the first intimations you’ve received of an impending epic avalanche of awesomeness that’s set to coming crashing into your world. Get ready for Witch Girls Rock (Wgrock?!), coming to a garage girl band near you!

In addition to everything else there’s going to be a story arc set in Oz, which, you know, is a little unfair. I mean, this whole thing combines so many interesting elements already and then to throw in Oz, which is another interest of mine? It’s just a little unfair and uncanny how interesting this whole thing is. There’s witches, bad attitudes, magic, comics, role-playing, storytelling, cinema, education, empowerment, and so on and on … and then to also toss in Oz?

I do have a couple issues with the materials, both in print and online, in that they could be better edited. I’ve struggled with the idea of recommending these materials, especially to a young person, because they have a number of grammatical errors and typos. And, the website additionally has HTML issues like a reliance on frames that hide deep links to content or tiny content areas that cause ugly scrollbars to appear in the middle of a page. In a therapeutic or pedagogical context this is really unfortunate because of the potential for this kind of tool as not only sandbox therapy but as a way to incorporate play into even a hardcore curriculum, especially in a home-school setting. But, if you can let that go, this is some great and fun storytelling, and it’s also overall the great kind of satisfying story of an underdog coming back for another go. This is the kind of creativity that is compelling both in itself but is moreso when you know the story of the creator. The story and the story of the story are both compelling enough to me that I’m willing to deal with these flaws. (And, I’ve been re-editing this for hours, so who am I to talk, really?) But, you know, this is what creativity looks like. Sometimes it’s not so perfectly refined and polite as all that (Annabelle will certainly be the first to tell you not to judge on appearances, but maybe not until after you’re a toad!), but it’s damned compelling anyway.

(And, yeah, it seems like it’d be something like a dream job to be part of the creative team for a cluster of sheer awesomeness like Witch Girls in general, but also to help fix that stuff and help it get the reception and response I think it deserves. But, I’ve settled for sending an obnoxious number of emails with suggested corrections already … It’s a disease. I can’t help it. But, I mean well.)

It will be interesting to see how the general public reacts to all of this. This is not fluffy bunny stuff. There’s a certain and definite edginess to these stories. There’s moral ambiguity to the characters, or at least a certain amoral will to power. These Witch Girls are being themselves, and stepping into that with powerful wills. There’s a disregard for the rules and some age inappropriate behaviour, such as smoking. Though the stories are thankfully not sexualized, at least not more than the Halloween costume circular in the paper is (there’s a time and a place for that, and it’s apparently called Anime); there’s definitely enough there to make the knee-jerkers, that don’t actually read things before condemning them, go bonkers. The boy wizard is kind of milquetoast compared to this, after all; as there seems to be nothing more particularly, viscerally threatening to the traditionalist movements than strong women with power who refuse to be labeled with scarlet letters, or moreover wear those letters proudly, reclaiming them. But, like strong medicine, it’s good for the public to keep having to confront and come to terms with such women and their stories.

I intend to post more over time about this as I hear about the development of WItch Girls and reflect more on the materials. So, this is kind of just by way of a general summary of some of the things I’ve learned so far. But, check it out. Maybe you’ll find this all as interesting and fun as I have.