Designing a new identity for Woodland Action

As part of my initial site evaluation and proposal for the Woodland Community Service Center, I suggested the design of an organizational identity. Subsequently, the organization was re-named Woodland Action, and I got a burst of energy around the name. I worked through a design transformation based on the new name, and developed a full proposal. At the next meeting of the board, I came prepared to present my work. However, in the interim, the board had apparently tried to develop a new logo by committee, and I found out I had arrived just in the nick of time to save them from an absolutely abysmal logo. Friends don’t let friends design by committee. It was basically the most ugly and bland bank logo from the 50s.

I was able to present my competing proposal and to gather some feedback. I realized I would have to pull out all the stops at the next meeting. I re-presented not only my original proposal, but also I provided a primer and picture of the whole design process to give the board an idea of just what goes into the process. I also developed from the process a fully articulated narrative story, meaning, for the visual design.

Here’s my successful presentation to the board back in July 2014 which resulted in the board adopting my design for the organization.


Website and Social Media

Since the last meeting, I designed and implemented a website for the organization. I also created social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for Woodland Action, in accordance with the proposal’s Website and Social Media Strategy sections.

Due to a particular technical step necessary in signing up Woodland Action for Google Apps for Nonprofits, I was forced to prematurely switch the speculative website into production, so there are still some areas of the site which need to be more fully developed, such as text on the About and Services pages, for example.

However, the site is up and running. In addition to hours, location address and map, and other essential contact information, there is now a functioning PayPal donation button which can be used by members of the community to create one-time donations or subscription pledges in whatever amount they are comfortable.

The site can be found at and people who accidentally go to will be redirected to the canonical site.

Additional Logo Design Exploration

At the request of the board, I spend several additional hours engaged in further design exploration based on specific suggests, to give them a reasonable test. In case you were curious, here is a representative sample of rejects from my sketchbook to respond to the ideas of stretching “action” to fill the overhand space, which removes the ability to snuggly fit the arrow there.

Arrow Mustache / Too Displaced
Arrow Mustache / Too Displaced
WA much smaller / Too Much Whitespace
WA much smaller / Too Much Whitespace
WA Very Disproportioned / Too Action Comics / Woodland Offhand
WA Very Disproportioned / Too Action Comics / Woodland Offhand

A few example rejects which are responsive to adding text about specific services, and which then make the logo specific and inflexible for use with other services, including those to be introduced.

Government / Forest Service Seal
Government / Forest Service Seal
Wall of Text
Wall of Text

A few other representative examples of rejects which were from stepping back in the design process to see if I could derive a now option from some of the earlier sketches from which I had moved beyond.

Broken Arrow / Awkward
Broken Arrow / Awkward
Lightning Strike / Harry Potter
Lightning Strike / Harry Potter
Whale Head / Mr Yuck
Whale Head / Mr Yuck
Woodland Underwater / Wonder Woman
Woodland Underwater / Wonder Woman

The Story So Far

My initial design is described in the Organizational Identity Proposal from May 7th, which I include by reference, and here is the primary representation of that logo.

logo from May 7th

Shortly after the board meeting in June, I was asked to whip up an example with what immediate changes I could in order to have those for display at the Garage Sale and feedback from the community. The feedback I got from this design iteration was entirely positive, especially that some concerns about the arrow having unfortunate connotations were resolved.

Primary changes were to add drop shadows to text and internal design elements, improve the gradient based on a more solid colour palette, and to address the issues with the arrow by decreasing the vertical on the path (trail/road/river/landscape) and increasing the relative size of the arrow head (tree/mountain).

There is actually also a few pixels of space between the lines of text, but they were so conservative they don’t appear to exist.

logo for the garage sale

Current Design Recommendation

current proposalAt this point, the primary design example for the logo has developed significantly over the month from my initial proposal. I have included not only several suggestions from the board, other feedback, and some of my own additional design explorations, I propose the following logo for adoption.

I have increased the boldness of the design, through colour, color separation, and placement of new elements. There is obvious visual separation between the lines of text through both increased spacing and the use of two nearby hues. I have introduced a further refinement of the arrow, somewhat increasing the vertical spread on the path again, but have further decreased the horizontal area. I have also incorporated the idea for italics into the angle of the arrow head, instead of the text where it did not work well. I have also included a new horizon design element to further suggest that the arrow design is related to landscape, and also to justify the angle of the arrow head, which otherwise would be a tree in danger of falling, a dangerous mountain cliff, but, in any case, would break the narrative and symbolism of the logo. By including the horizon, the narrative and symbolism are not only preserved, but enhanced.

Further examples, related to the previous discussion of certain use case scenarios, can be seen in these organizational mastheads, which use the logo with and without the additional text which speaks to specific services offered and demonstrates the use of the icon design.

Full masthead

masthead food bank

masthead thrift shop

One specific issue that was previous addressed, but which I wish to reiterated here is that these are extremely scalable vector images which can be printed in many sizes, including large signs all the way through to letterhead and business cards. Further, the logo design is ideal for use on other collateral materials and tchotchkes such as lapel buttons, challenge coins, window clings and bumper stickers.

logo sized

logo sized

logo sized

logo sized

In one final example of how flexible this design is, and which was also previously discussed, can be seen in the way that alternate vector source images in high contrast can also be used against light and dark backgrounds as well as in cases where printing the logo in a single colour is desired, such as for extremely small sizes, silkscreening on shirts, or for inexpensive letterhead.

masthead bw

logo bw light

logo bw dark

logo colour flat


The name Woodland Action is our concise and clear call to action in the local community, and encapsulates the mission of the organization to actively support people in need in Woodland, WA and surrounding areas. Our logo design is intended to reflect the mission of this organization and our connection to the region. The design was derived from the initials W. A. and through a design transformation the letters themselves suggested a shape that reflected the local landscape with river, valley, tree, and mountain.

The curved tail arrow is derived from the initials, but also suggests the two rivers, Lewis and Columbia, on which Woodland sits. It suggests the wonderful landscape of river, earth, trees, mountains, and sky. It suggests the professional and recreational paths and trails on maps of the region. But this arrow also suggests the path of life which can include times of need as well as times of success, and therefore the necessity for community support systems and mutual aid provided by caring neighbors for those in need. In summary, the arrow is a symbol of our mission of local philanthropic action, and the final upswing suggests the goal and triumph of hope and renewal.


I’ve found myself thinking off and on over the [insert your favourite lengthy time interval here] about calendars. I’ve been interested in various calendars at various times, for some value of “interested” which ranges from genuine curiosity to amusement. A few of the calendars that come to mind off-hand which I’ve found interesting include the history of the Gregorian, the Discordian calendar, (although not strictly a calendar rather than a system of coordinated metric time) the Swatch @Beat, various cultural/ritual Lunar calendars, the 13 Moon calendar, the French Revolutionary calendar, and, recently, the Thelemic calendar.

Believe me when I say that I’ve gone on many an Internet safari looking over various articles and also seeking a pocket watch which only displays the solar and lunar locations, at the minimal, or more recently offers the functions of a planetarium.

Among the various thoughts I’ve had recently is the increasing sense that the Gregorian calendar appears to me to be more heliocentric than the Thelemic calendar. The Thelemic calendar system is supposed to be more appropriate than the Gregorian for a heliocentric age as it is purported to escape the unscientific notion of geocentric arrangement in the heavens. Of course, the reality of scientifically appropriate and accurate relativism means that any point can be the apparent center around which things more or less orbit, even if Occam’s Razor does preference some answers over others, but to intentionally build a system which places that point of reference at a solar center requires a notation that reflects that viewpoint, not another; or else the message of the system undermines what it is meant to mean.

The indicators for the Thelemic calendar are the zodiacal house and degree in which the Sun appears and the house with the degree in which the Moon appears, both of which are notations of the apparent path of those bodies through the heavens as they move from the vantage point of the Earth. This notation represents the viewpoint that the Sun and Moon move, or at least tracks their apparent movement as if from a stationary Earth. Although this does use the only two celestial bodies for which retrograde motion isn’t an apparent issue, which is merely a mask that the model still presents this phenomena if other bodies are looked at in the very same way, it’s still from the perspective of those bodies moving as if around Earth. This calendar also has the further disadvantage of not necessarily being coordinated universal time, and instead can offer not only different calendar notations from different places on Earth, but is also ambiguously unclear about whether the notation is from one place on Earth. For example, one might use the Thelemic time server to read out time from a coordinated time or from the apparent notation where the observer is standing on Earth. Again, this is not only ambiguous but is conditional based on the apparent movement of the heavens as it appears from some point on earth. That’s pretty darned geocentric for a system adopted in order to represent a heliocentric intent.

A discussion of this notation as a way of “tracking of the sun and moon through the zodiac” can be found at Thelemapedia’s Calendar article. The specificity of the system clearly implies a mobile Sun and Moon from the viewpoint of the Earth and the observer.

The Gregorian calendar, however, is actually a bit more ambivalent. It could be said of the Gregorian calendar that the year marks the point at which the Sun returns to the same point in the sky as viewed from Earth, but could also be said to represent the Earth returning to the same point along its orbit around a stationary Sun. The advantage here is that whether from a stationary Earth or a stationary Sun, the notation is the same, and thus is flexibly useful across paradigms. Further, the notation is universally coordinated for users of the same calendar except for the minor caveat of the International Date Line. Thus, since the Gregorian calendar is, aside from a minor issue, more universally coordinated (not talking about the clock here, but the calendar) no matter where on Earth one is, and can be said to represent the journey of the Earth around a stationary Sun, it is definitely more heliocentric than the Thelemic calendar.

In other words, one of the useful things about the status quo Gregorian system is that it is amenable to various paradigms of thought on centricism. This flexibility of meaning, this ambivalence, is part of the system’s longevity. Any novel proposal must somehow overcome this utilitarian and somewhat universal appeal to have any hope of general adoption.

However, and here’s a comparative-benefit alternative affirmative case, there’s a way to create a more heliocentric calendar than either the Gregorian or Thelemic systems. Simply use instead the apparent house and degree of the Earth from the viewpoint of the Sun, instead of the apparent house and degree of the Sun from the viewpoint of the Earth. Essentially, this is diametrically opposite a position in the sky from the Thelemic notation of the Sun from a geocentric position. This is nicely metaphorical and poetical, since the one-hundred and eighty degree dichotomy neatly mirrors breaking from geocentric to heliocentric as well moving radically between Aeons.

(I’ll avoid the obvious preciousness of calling this alternative the Griogairian system. “Oops! … I did it again.”)

For the minor indicator, one could use the Moon, assuming the realization that this is as the Moon travels about the mobile Earth, which makes some sense to me since it nicely echos the Collect language, “… so that we may in our particular orbit give out light and life to them that revolve about us …” [see], but using a lunar notation from the viewpoint of the Earth is by definition geocentric, even if it is the minor index of the notation, and thus counter to the intent of switching to a heliocentric model; and, a lunar position from the viewpoint of the Sun would just simply be unreasonably confusing, violating Occam’s Razor, and thus run counter to the intent of switching to a more rational, modern and scientific calendar.

One might decide instead to use for the minor index, say, the house and degree of fast moving Mercury’s apparent position from the viewpoint of the Sun. Mercury, the messenger, king of jesters and jester to kings, as it dances like a crazed piper close to the throne of the gravity well. (Mercury sure holds appeal for me because of that correspondence, if this were about advocating my own personal system. But, there may actually be something which will remain unexplored here about using personally or situationally relevant planetary influences to mark time.) Another possibility is to use Mars, since there’s some correspondence with Ra-Hoor-Khuit that is particularly sub-culturally relevant. But, the point remains that the major indicator should be the movement of the Earth around the apparently stationary Sun, or else the notation is simply not heliocentric, in spite of claims otherwise.

One could go further, and like the concentric rings of the Mayan calendar stone, develop a notation for larger periodic movements. The precession of the equinoxes may not be suitable, since it’s the apparent precession from the viewpoint of the Earth; but, could be used for its symbolic relation to the Aeons. Another option is to develop some indicator based on the travels of the Sun around the galactic core, but the gap between the cycle of the Earth around the Sun to the cycle of the Sun around the galactic core may simply be too wide to be useful. Perhaps one of the other planets as it moves around the Sun, or the periodicity of a particular comet, would be suitably longer in period while still being a notation from the viewpoint of the Sun. The most useful of these longer periodic movements would be ones that could be verified visually in some fashion through reasonable astronomical observation and some calculation, instead of something that would not be verifiable through some observational technique or only through calculations.

It seems to me the Thelemic calendar actually moves further away from a heliocentric notation, not toward it; and fails to provide a suitable universally coordinated notation, since it offers two plausible notations for date-time at each geographic location.

For example, depending whether I am using my timezone or not as my point of view, January 1, 2010 EV at 00:00:00 could appear as either (using no offset):

Sol in 10° Capricorni : Luna in 13° Cancri : dies Veneris : Anno IVxvii æræ novæ

or (using an improbable, but funny, offset of -666 minutes, near the International Date Line):

Sol in 10° Capricorni : Luna in 20° Cancri : dies Veneris : Anno IVxvii æræ novæ

Further, January 1, 2001 EV at 00:00:00 could appear as either (using no offset):

Sol in 10° Capricorni : Luna in 18° Piscis : dies Lunæ : Anno IVviii æræ novæ

or (again using an improbable, but funny, offset of -666 minutes, near the International Date Line):

Sol in 11° Capricorni : Luna in 24° Piscis : dies Lunæ : Anno IVviii æræ novæ

While these examples only demonstrate differences by degree, other specific times on this planet will also have more dramatic differences in zodiac as well, but certainly minute and second. And, to be fair, the documentation of the Thelemic Time Server does make clear that the difference in degree based on location on Earth is negligible, natheless it does exist. And, since we’re talking about science, accuracy is a matter of sensitivity in measurement.

And, most importantly, notice that the canonical Thelemic notation offers no indication of what offset is being used, are approximately twice as long, and are more syntactically complex than the alternative status quo. Canonical date-time in Gregorian would generally offer some time zone indication, be shorter, and quicker to parse. It’s possible that the time and time zone would be also specified in conjunction to the Thelemic notation, but this would mean using neither canonical nor purely Thelemic notation.

These examples of Thelemic notation also mix diversely different symbol sets, since each have different bases. There’s base-10, base-12, base-26, and so on. There’s alphabetical and numeric and symbolic. This notation also mixes two languages which makes it either detached from the vernacular or else makes it pseudo-Latin. These two points alone suggest that the notation is unnecessarily complex and not well designed.

It may be worth noting here also that by being more granular than the smallest unit used by the Gregorian, a day, the Thelemic calendar is actually overlapping two different systems. The Thelemic calendar actually offers a granularity which requires two systems under the status quo, the Gregorian calendar and the system of time told by a clock. This might seem to be a useful simplification, but rather, and very often, the Thelemic calendar system is used in conjunction with times given by clock, thus it does not actually simplify over the symbiotic relationship between calendar and clock of the status quo since that relationship is maintained. Also, generally, the proponents of the Thelemic calendar do not rail against the clock, rather only against the calendar of the status quo; so, those proponents cannot be said to actually be proposing the simplification of dissolving the two into one … at least, um, in this case.

Further, it’s worth noting that the Thelemic date system is computationally obfuscated when compared to common numerical representations of the Gregorian date system in the same way that the Roman numeral system is computationally obfuscated when compared to the Arabic numeral system, as there is no canonically correct way to note a Thelemic date in purely numerical notation [see]. Whereas, for example, even the 13 Moon calendar has a computationally useful canonical notation, such as representing December 20, 2012 as:

which is computationally convenient. That’s not to say that the Thelemic notation is impossible, as is clearly demonstrated by the reverse lookup facility of the Thelemic Time Server [see]; but, rather that it’s more obfuscated and thus has less comparative utility because it does not offer a clear and canonical numerical notation.

For example, a decimal notation for the Thelemic calendar could be something like:


where the order is from greater to lesser, with year first followed by the major index and then minor index (which, by the way, is also disordered in the current Thelemic notation as major, minor and then followed by the greatest index of year). The first CDMS is the constellation, degree, minute and second of the major index, and the second is the second; and finally the digital representation of the Thelemic years since The Equinox of the Gods in 1904. This notation could be used in a less granular way, say by dropping minutes and seconds, like representing January 1, 2001 EV at 00:00:00 (using no offset) as:


(which means Sun in 10° Capricorn and Moon in 18° Pisces in the year 96). Additionally, for even more granularity, the seconds could include decimal fractions.

“96::10:10::12:18” is significantly simpler, of greater utility, and more concise than “Sol in 10° Capricorni : Luna in 18° Piscis : dies Lunæ : Anno IVviii æræ novæ”. This decimal notation is also less obfuscated and still simpler and of greater utility than the more abbreviated Thelemic notation which uses mixed symbol sets of alphabet and zodiac. Obvious proof of this is that this decimal notation could appear on a simple LED digital clock and be understood.

Therefore, it seems to me a reasonable conclusion that a more properly heliocentric time notation than either the Thelemic or Gregorian calendars offer would be to use the universally coordinated, and unambiguous, position of the Earth relative to the Sun instead of the apparent position of the Sun relative to the Earth.

I also feel it worth reflecting on the fact that in general novel time and calendar systems have to my eyes failed because they are more complex, and thus more unwieldy, or less precise, and thus less useful, than the status quo system of notation and calculation. For example, the Swatch @Beat was actually less granular than the standard second, though it was universally coordinated and metric; and that lack of granularity actually was one reason, but certainly not the only, why it did not develop a wider following. (Another relevant criticism of the Swatch @Beat was that while it was universally coordinated, it used as the mean the location of Swatch HQ in Biel, CH. Using an UTC based on Boleskine in a Thelemic system would also be subject to this same criticism.) In this case, the Thelemic calendar appear to fail, as demonstrated above, to improve on the Gregorian calendar system in both of these areas: ease and precision. It fails ease because of the difficulty of conversion and use in daily activities for general application. It fails in precision because it requires much more notation to mark precise date-time, and even if a more precise degree is noted with both minutes and seconds the notation is still of ambiguous offset.

Obviously a ritual or religious calendar has less necessary need to oblige the users with general ease and unambiguous precision than a civic or secular calendar; but offering both is something that will aid in the cross-over of a primarily religious calendar into common use for civic and secular purposes.

But, even aside from these issues, the Thelemic calendar fails to actually deliver on the intent of being more suitable to a heliocentric worldview because it is actually quite geocentric in notation. The claim that the Thelemic calendar notation is more heliocentric that the Gregorian is simply false, and there is a demonstrably better notation in which it is possible to be more heliocentric than the Thelemic calendar. Though this alternative I’ve explored does not answer the issues of ease or precision either, my alternative suggestion succeeds as a comparative benefit because it more fully meets the intent toward heliocentricity.

A true and obvious advance in ease and precision is needed from any novel proposal in order to have the chance for civic and secular adoption, and the current Thelemic calendar system and notation does not meet that test of modern utility and applicability no matter how laudable as a poetic, symbolically-rich, religiously significant or qualitative system it may be. This and it’s utility to sub-cultural identity formation by simply being different actually seem counter-productive to adoption in the mainstream of the core meaning of heliocentricity.


Not only does the current Thelemic calendar and notation system fail to best the Gregorian for utility and adoption, but it also fails to be the best way to present a heliocentric model and paradigm when compared to either the Gregorian or an alternative. In fact, the Thelemic system is not only geocentric but also opaquely observer-location dependent; which would fit with the Aeon of the Child if it were indicated, but would be even less convenient or universally coordinated.

Based on this thinking, I have a few concluding suggestions that might be adopted to improve the Thelemic calendar and notation system. One or more of the following could be adopted:

  • Change the major index to the heliocentric model by rather noting which constellation the Earth is in from the viewpoint of the Sun, which would be canonically and clearly heliocentric.
  • Change the minor index to the heliocentric model of noting which constellation some other body, Mercury or Mars, is in orbit around and from the viewpoint of the Sun. It would be nice for this minor index to offer at least as much, if not more, granularity than a clock in order to allow the simplification of resolving both calendar and clock into a single system, but if one continues to use a clock in symbiosis then that is not as necessary a feature, and perhaps even undesirable to have overlap.
  • Consider adding an even longer index, such as the Great Year or more to the point some index which represents the motion of the Sun around the galactic core, which adds that the Sun also moves, not around the Earth, but around another larger center.
  • Create a standard decimal notation which uses only numerals in base-10 with only the minimally necessary punctuation for clarity, such as ANO::CC:DD:MM:SS::CC:DD:MM:SS or optionally ANO::CC:DD::CC:DD when less granularity is needed. Even if the larger issue of the model isn’t made more heliocentric, the utility of a simple decimal notation added to the status quo for both humans and machines would be an improvement.
  • If an actual heliocentric model and notation is not adopted, at the least the existing system could be standardized on an universally coordinated viewpoint, from Boleskine for example. This would mean that there would be no ambiguity about parallax from one location on Earth to another. Otherwise, some method of indicating offset should be included in the current Thelemic notation.
  • Beyond all of the above, knowing that a nano-century is PI seconds long, means to me that the Gregorian system is cool and interesting. Some detractors of the Gregorian system (especially the 13 Moon people who are constantly crying that “it makes no sense!”) tend to miss how interesting it actually is and might consider being more friendly and knowledgeable about the historicity and story of it.
  • In general, detractors of the Gregorian system (especially the 13 Moon people) seem to not know much about other more or less modern attempts to change calendaring systems. Becoming more familiar with those other attempts might offer insights into why they weren’t effective that can be used to further reflect on the calendar change they support, and offer ways to modify their proposal to be more likely adopted.

Update 21jan2010 @ 2:44pm:

Clay F. suggests to me that the paradigm for the Thelemic system is egocentric not heliocentric, which is a possible paradigmatic meaning of the system.

However, while the Thelemic system is inherently observer-dependent, it fails to note even the possible use of the offset of the observer, if used at all, and thus does not clearly specify an egocentric over geocentric paradigm. Thus, if it is meant to be egocentric, it also fails at that. To succeed it should include at least the offset, but might fully specify the location on Earth by latitude and longitude and maybe something about which individual it is that is making the observation, such as a short biographical statement or motto. But, a truly egocentric model would include epicycles, and other subjective notions. Even Earth would be tumbling about underneath Ego like a spirograph. Oh, so very post-modern in a neo-romantic way. But, then it continues to fail utility and convenience, and is still and moreso certainly not likely to be widely adopted.

He also pointed out that another issue I didn’t mention with the minor lunar index is that it is not unique to a particular date, and that without more accurate notation, a particular solar and lunar set of degree can reoccur for times separated by a lunar month. His suggestion to resolve this specific fault is to drop the lunar index but include the planetary day in the notation, such as “sol in 1° aq., dies jovis”.

He also pointed out as an oddity that the Thelemic system is using the tropical not sidereal zodiac.

Update 25jan2010 @ 9:54am:

Stephen C. suggests an interesting possible paradigmatic shift for the Thelemic system which didn’t really occur to me, and that is to see the system as not to really focused on the observer location but on Sun as being in the center on a line between Earth and the sign.

This is sort of seeing the relationship as being like a teeter-toter, with Sun as a pivot, or fulcrum. Instead of Sun constantly cock-blocking the current constellation, like a cat always trying to sit between you and the TV, Earth and the current degree along the zodiac chase each other around Sun, like Enterprise and Reliant around Regula I in The Wrath of Khan. There’s something about this that seems interestingly reminiscent of the notion of an alternate Earth in the opposite orbit from Earth prime, hanging out in L3, like divine brothers, sons of Sun, battling over solar inheritance. There’s also something to this that seems appropriate to the switch from LVX to NOX, with a persistent shadow of sorts marking time as a celestial-scale sundial.

However, I think if this were the paradigm one wanted to suggest, then the notation might better reflect that by iconographically representing this relationship. It also doesn’t address the other issues about which I made suggestions.

More thoughts about Witch Girls

Witch Girls Adventures [also] is edgy. This isn’t Disney we’re talking about after all. There’s complexity here. This is like the difference between real folktales and digested, denatured and dumbed-down children’s bedtime stories. One of the stories I’ve heard about the original Looney Toons was that the creators worked to entertain themselves not focusing on what they thought was appropriate for kids only, which ended up producing works that contained many layers of humor. So far, the nature of Witch Girls offers the possibility for the richness and textured storytelling which can appeal to a wider audience.

Witch Girls combines so many interesting things, it’s truly a geeky paradise. It’s a series of comics, a roleplaying game, and a desert topping. I’m filled with creative envy at the potential of this world of ideas and look forward to finding out more. This is like a book that can’t be put down, and after reaching the end one wants more. Some of the best art leaves something to the imagination, leaves some space for the viewer to fill in their own ideas and thoughts and creativity; effectively becoming part of the art itself.

There’s something incredibly compelling about these ideas and the opportunity to engage them, but I’m also noticing the persistence the creator Malcolm Harris has in bringing this vision into the world in spite of setbacks. Witch Girls is an underdog. This cannot have been an easy road for Harris. There’s been fits and starts, through the original comic and a movie deal that fell through to the present with another comic and another potential movie deal. There must be a bit of déjà vu in how things are coming together again, but Harris keeps on trying to bring to the world this imaginative place where many stories will be told.

Witch girls is empowering. Witch Girls mostly features young female characters who are witches, which makes sense; especially given the intended audience, and, you know, the name of the thing itself. But, it also makes sense for an overall philosophy of empowerment. Hopefully, the series and the game will continue to feature young women with powers rescuing themselves, without the help of, or even better in spite of, the males that might appear from time to time. On the other hand, it’s also important not to completely demonize males or simply to exchange roles in a power dynamic of gender imbalance. You know, a little of that for inversion of the cultural narrative about gender roles and exploration of what it means to have power is great, but I hope to see from at least some characters in the ensemble and in the stories a voice that speaks to a vision for synergistic co-existence, not just between genders but across any divide whether race, ability, social class, planet of origin, or what have you. I’m not asking for political correctness, but rather the recognition that all beings deserve to be treated well and to have the chance to become themselves and part of the group, not in conformity but in the radical notion that in diversity and difference is strength. (You know, the old Vulcan philosophy of IDIC!)

Also, while there is a wonderful and commendable variety of race and culture in the core ensemble of witches, I note that there’s not much variation for the body types to the girls in the comics. (Which is odd, especially given one of the promotional tag lines for the game is, “In the world of Witch Girls, power comes in all shapes and sizes.”) Although, after writing that sentence, I went back to the materials to check and did see some apparent variations in at least height. There’s racial and social diversity, to be sure and to be commended; but, the body type of all these girls seems to be a bit skewed toward the future-perfect model. Perhaps this is simply the appearance of their intended youth, but even in children of that age it seems like there should be more variety of body type.

The inclusion of a character speaking an actual alternate human language, not some invented language, is a welcome one. The character of Rosa uses a few words in Spanish in her dialog, and more rarely but still on occasion speaks an entire sentence, with appropriate diacriticals and orthography. This is in contrast to a typical comic conceit is to display foreign languages as English surrounded by angle brackets, and note that the speech was translated. there’s less opportunity, perhaps, in a comic to display multilingual dialog than say on TV with subtitles, as in the refreshingly cool Japanese-language scenes with Hiro and Ando on the show Heroes, where there’s screen space; so the use of an actual second language in any form is nice to see. (And, as cool as invented alien languages are, as cool as using Esperanto as the language of dinosaurs is, it’s more useful and interesting pedagogically to use a human language that players might actually encounter in their daily lives.) (Okay, okay, so I admit I still want to see at least a little bit of Latin and Greek, too … it is about magic, after all!) (Of course, then again, I just had a total nergasm thinking about a game that uses Irish or even Proto-Indo-European roots as a language of magic …)

Witch Girls is an opportunity for young women to learn about themselves in an environment of infinite possibilities. This is an opportunity to discover a rich interior life through the social engagement of collective storytelling. Each young woman has the freedom of opportunity to develop notions of themselves as an individual by testing out scenarios and behaviours in a social learning environment. The individual grows by engaging others, and the group grows by empowering individual growth. Discovering the self is a magical act, and may be the most important and creative result of this kind of storytelling.

At this general time in Western culture there are a number of similar sources for stories about witches and female heroes (or, “Sheroes“), so on that level Witch Girls is timely, but, given the long-standing themes of witches, also timeless. W.I.T.C.H., Sabrina, even Buffy and a host of anime witches such as Kiki are all a testament to this. These are the stories about young women with power to influence their world, to change their world. There’s a lot of movement in the last couple of decades or so toward offering these kinds of stories of strong women. Witch Girls seems poised to take part in that continuing revolution in relevancy for half the population; and, for a population greatly ignored by and that generally ignores the comic and role-playing media in which Witch Girls appears.

Princess Lucinda is a Darth Vader for a new age. I’ve heard that Lucas said about Darth Vader, kids like Darth Vader because he’s an example of having power over their own circumstances. The reversal of the good witch, bad witch trope in the original Witch Girls comics is still there, but it’s not as obvious as when cute, blond Annabelle was evil and cute, and when raven-hair Janette was the soft and caring sort. Now, Lucinda is the raven-haired, amoral Witch. But, she’s got agency. She’s got purpose and power. She’s self-willed and her amorality comes from following her own nature as best she can; and, I expect that as a character she’ll generally tend toward more and more awareness that her power never requires interfering with anyone that doesn’t interfere with her own story. But, part of that balance will also come from the characters around her, her friends and even her own antagonists.

This is real storytelling, and the power of young people, women especially, in our culture, telling their own tales can’t be under estimated. It’s empowering and important.

If you gander at the luscious illustration and visual style of the Princess Lucinda materials, examples of which are online such as the preview comic or the various examples of art from the forthcoming first issue of the six-issue series; you will find high quality work. However, some of the visual idiom of the various comics is a bit shallow. The styling of dialog in the comics, both visually and textually does not take advantage of the full range of the established visual language, including a very sparse use of appropriate sound effects, bold, italic and so on. This seems especially missed where these offer clues to the emotion and emphasis behind the speech of the characters. These are stories aimed at young women, after all, who are already culturally predisposed toward and highly capable in understanding emotional states. (For those interested, an interesting primer on the richness of this visual language can be found online.)

As much as I suggest using more of that traditional visual language, I also recognize that the mode of sequential storytelling can be confusing to some people, especially those not previously familiar with how to read that visual language. For example, even after years of exposure, though by no means extensive, I still find that occasionally I am not able to determine which panel is next in some stories with without re-reading a page, so it’s possible that using a more limited, and simple visual language is useful to the particular audience intended for these stories. However, since the visual language is pretty standard, and one Malcolm Harris’ purposes, as stated in several forum posts, for the overall RPG is to introduce to a new audience what it means to engage in a roleplaying game; why not also introduce the rich visual language for the comics as well? Perhaps a useful primer, like the website I linked to above, could be created as an introduction for the perplexed, which would include clues about how to read which panel is next. Some manga titles do this by having a section in the beginning that offers a primer, but maybe this can be a separate document that’s available instead of needing space in every issue or title.This primer would then form a style guide for all the products, and could be given to those working on future products as the standard language their audience would be familiar with from previous works. The drawback of that loss of freedom to explore the visual ordering of panels is that part of the fun of the visual language is the frisson created when a norm changes, like the way that Shakespeare will break meter when a character is upset, or in a novel the writer might change their language to change the sense of immediacy or mood. Having access to a complex visual style can be useful to the storyteller, and being exposed to that is to develop that literacy. And there’s a lot of media and language literacy in the world today, so let’s not underestimate what young people are capable of if given the chance.

I’ve mentioned before that Witch Girls needs work through copy editing if it is going to appeal to an educational market. Really, it’s a gem in the rough right now; and as compelling as the materials are I would hesitate to recommend them without a caveat about the editing. These materials could be excellent tools for great home-school use or in any environment where lessons from a curriculum can be woven into the puzzles and stories of the storytelling.

Witch Girls is fun. One lessons for me in playing with Peter Suber’s Nomic, a game in which to goal is to modify the rules of the game, is that the only core rule for all games is that the players agree to all the rules. RPGs like Amber [also], Toon, Ghostbusters, Paranoia [also] or Risus [also] are in line with how I see Witch Girls Adventures: it’s about the fun of social storytelling. Where rules would get in the way, or a specific rule change would be more fun; the house rules over the rules. The rules are meant to enable social storytelling, not impose control over a player’s imagination. For example, Toon explicitly offers players a chance to explain away anything, if they do it well enough it becomes part of the story. If the players can imagine it, then there’s a way to do it; after all, in Witch Girls we’re all Witches aren’t we? What’s the point of magic if not to enable the imagination to soar, and to discover one’s self and one’s friends through the process of shared adventure?

There are also storytelling games that aren’t roleplaying. Narrative games like Nanofictionary and Once upon a time. These might offer insights into storytelling in a game, or tools to help spark creativity within a Witch Girls Adventures. Here I recall the way that the Tarokka deck from TSR’s Ravenloft game setting was used to enhance storytelling.

The focus of the rules here is to create a structure that enables compelling storytelling. It’s a structure intended to enable freedom.

Because of the storytelling focus, bringing in ideas learned from other games that enhances the ability for the players to tell their own stories seems ideal. for example, from playing paranoia, ghostbusters and risus, (I detect a pattern here! In fact, how big a wad of quatloos would it take to get S. John Ross to write something, anything, for Witch Girls?) I learned how much fun it is to weave in real life activity into a game. For example, if there’s a potion that must be imbibed, try having a jar of pickle juice on hand or where possible use real-life puzzles, like origami or knot tying, as a mechanism for solving in-game puzzles. For another example, what if, in order to research and in-game spell, the players needed to write their own rhymed couplets or between session actually do some online or library research or if between sessions the players had some kind of scavenger hunt to complete which would then solve an in-game puzzle?

And, the best stories are those where characters have lives and motivations that create opportunity for drama, so one thing to do is have each player have some secret motivation or goal in an episode, maybe even at blatantly cross-purposes from others. this gives the overall story and play richness and depth, develops interesting tension and excitement, and moreover is an opportunity for brilliant problem solving and conflict resolution.

Witch Girls has value for your money. Harris has done a great deal of work to make sure there’s value in his products. For example, instead of a typical 22 pages, he’s worked to provide comics with 44 (for each issue of Princess Lucinda) or 48 (for Witch Girls Tales Vol 2, Iss 1) pages of content. Unlike say, a TV show like Lost or a comic series like Sabrina: The Teen-Age Witch, you’re not being strung along from issue to issue with only minimal story. Each product in the entire series is meant to give the reader real value.

In true comic tradition, there’s also alternate covers for the core rules. But, going a step further, the comic material inside is actually also different between the two editions. Generally, the “nice” edition is the one that’s available in the stores I’ve checked online. The “naughty” edition appears, at least currently, to only be available directly from the source.

There’s quite a few supplements and expansions on the way, as well as the comic and a quarterly magazine written in-character, so articles are about the game from within and further not only enhances the storytelling but offers a real outlet for players who may feel creatively compelled to write articles, stories or ideas to share with others. This is the beginning of a real community of practice.

This community is enhanced by the way that new social media is being embraced. There’s a facebook page for the game, a twitter identity, several websites and an in-character blog for Princess Lucinda. The ground for engaging in this world is fertile for anyone wishing to join in growing the story together.