Need some comics about magical happenings? I’ve got you covered.
Before we jump in:
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A fascinating blend of magic with a sci-fi dystopian setting. Witch in training Eleanor is running an errand for her teacher one evening when she sees a demon attacking someone in an alley. She shouldn’t get involved. But she totally gets involved. Unfortunately for her, the demon is a mercenary and the victim is a smuggler, so things get real complicated real quick.
I like how dangerous the magic in this world – and how cool it looks, not gonna lie! Elanor is impetuous but not to the point of stupidity, so you can still root for her. Her teacher is hilarious. The creepy assassin is pitch perfect. Everyone has interesting hair.
You can get the first issue of Hex11 FREE as a digital download, to see if you like it! Volume 1 is already out, and Volume 2 was funded on Kickstarter and is in process now.
Diversity note: Hex11 was nominated in 2015 for the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity, I guess for the multiple strong and interesting female characters? But they’re all white, and beyond them, I don’t see much other diversity. Only one main character appears not white, a black man. He doesn’t get much screen time and very much looks like the “hulking black guy” stereotype. One of the other male characters is queer, so maybe that was it?
That said, I love this series.
Vesper Grey’s adventurer/archaeologist father gives her a magical necklace that comes with an amazing surprise: a magical guardian spirit named Corrick. Her father trusts Corrick to protect her, which he does… but at a price. It’s a revenge story set in the Wild West with ancient magical artifacts. Three volumes have been published so far, and I’m still loving this series. It’s a solid adventure that’s funny and touching by turns. The people are cartoony but not too cute, and they all have these big, gorgeously expressive eyes.
I’m not going to say much more, because you can read Plume as a webcomic to try it out and see what you think!
The only sour note for me: The classic adventurer/archaeologist trope basically amounts to white guys (or sometimes gals) traveling around the world stealing stuff from other cultures. Even if they’re hiding the artifacts so Bad Guys can’t use them as is happening here, I wish Smith had found a different setup for the dad in this story. Le sigh. Nothing is perfect, but at some point folks need to get the memo on this topic.
On the other hand, it has positive sex worker representation, so yay!
Ethan’s growing up in a world powered by magic. It makes lights, cars, washing machines, and computers work. He’s pretty gifted with it himself, but what he’s really interested in is the guy in Tobin Square who’s doing some other kind of magic that Ethan doesn’t understand. Yet. But he wants to learn, and manages to weasel his way into an apprenticeship. Turns out the magician, Terry Ward, is a stage magician from our world who’s trapped in Ethan’s world and living under the radar to avoid apprehension by authorities. The bad guys find them, conflict ensues, and young Ethan has to step up and defeat evil.
I wish this would have been an ongoing series, because I really wanted to know what happened next for these characters! But it does have an ending, so I’m trying to count my blessings.
I didn’t know what to make of this as first. The story is fairly slow, and some of the characters seem borderline annoying, and I definitely wondered why some of the people looked like monkeys. I am so glad I stuck with it, though, because it rewarded my patience with a mysterious, almost otherworldly conflict between a town’s magical traditions and the minions of a greedy, destructive corporation. Resistance, we learn, must come from the heart. Influenced by Miyazaki films but definitely its own thing.
Diversity note: Thung is originally from Indonesia.
The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Jen Van Meter, art by Roberto de la Torre, colors by David Baron, lettering by Dave Lanphear. The second volume has, in addition to de la Torre, additional artist credits for Diego Bernard, Tom Palmer, Al Barrionuevo, and Brian Level in various issues.
I fell in love with this book based on the gorgeous cover by Travel Foreman. It helped that Jen Van Meter was writing it, since her Hopeless Savages is one of my most favorite books ever. It did not disappoint! A gorgeous story of love, loss, and the journey between them and back again. Dr. Shan Fong-Mirage and her husband Hwen Mirage were two parts of a whole – not in a dysfunctional way, they just that relationship where something just clicks when they’re together. When Hwen is killed, Shan is at a loss until she finds a way into the underworld and sets out to find him, no matter the dangers.
Fans of strong women in comics will find Shan’s character and de la Torre’s depiction of her so satisfying. Shan is undeniably female, and solid and real rather than posed for the (male gaze) viewer’s enjoyment. Many of his panels are composed like interesting photographs, and the coloring is perfect for the spooky atmosphere.
The sequel, Second Lives (Amazon / Goodreads), is just as satisfying. Shan and ghost-Hwen trip over some dark magic while tracking down a scroll to give Hwen more materiality, and they end up battling a juiced-up ghost to prevent Very Bad Things from happening. If you enjoy the first book, definitely get the second!
If you need a light road trip comic about witches, this is perfect. (I’m not sure how anyone can NOT need a road trip comic about witches, honestly.) Jolene, Claire, and Andy are magical co-workers, housemates, and best friends. When their home is burgled of magical objects, they set out across New England in a convertible to track down their stuff and find out who’s behind the thefts. Along the way, as one does, they meet all kinds of interesting (and only sometimes dangerous) people (and not-people), solving problems with magic and the power of female friendship.
It’s not too deep, it’s fun, and there are plenty of great outfits and hairstyles in addition to girls being awesome. Everybody wins.
Diversity note: Kate Leth is bi.
Heart in a Box opens with a woman in a brutal fight, which ends in the death of her opponent, and a promise there’s an explanation for this. The explanation? Emma had a terrible breakup, and made a really bad decision. She made a deal to keep herself from feeling so terrible. Which, it turns out, keeps her from feeling anything at all. What follows is her quest to reclaim her heart, which leads to some pretty dark places. I rooted for Emma all the way, even as she wrestled with her conscience about the fallout from her choices. Life isn’t always pretty. But by the end of the book, she’s grown, and I doubt she’ll make the same mistakes twice.
I first came across Thompson from her comics blogging, and I’m so thrilled to see her pursuing this path with her writing. She’s very talented. McClaren’s art may not be for everyone. It’s a bit complicated. But it makes you love the characters, since it’s clear she loves them so much herself. They all have great hair, too.
The Singles Club is the second Phonogram book, but don’t let that stop you if you haven’t read the first. The first book is one long story and it’s pretty good. I liked this second book way better. It’s related but you don’t need any backstory more than the blurb on the back cover: “urban fantasy, where every song is a spell and every gig a chance for magical misadventure.” That’s right: in this world, music is magic. One night at a club, seven short stories that all interconnect. Relationships, the ends of relationships, magic and pain and love and loss. McKelvie can tell more of story in two panels than some comic books artists can tell in a whole book, and Gillen’s characters are amazing.
Set in modern Egypt, with all its political tensions and a heavy dose of the mythological. It brings together a reform-minded Egyptian journalist, his friend and maybe future brother-in-law who’s a drug runner, an Israeli soldier who needs to get back home, an idealistic but ignorant American wannabe reporter, a Lebanese-American teenager who’s headed down a path of violence, and a jinn. Threats from a sorcerer set these six characters on a race through Cairo and its spiritual counterpart, the Undernile. All of the chasing and fighting and demons and occasional shooting and whatnot is appropriately tense and dramatic, but the real heart of the book is how each character grows. It’s a response to “how do we fix the world?” that doesn’t rely on easy answers, but instead on human hearts and hard work. Well told, well illustrated, and very much needed.
Diversity note: G. Willow Wilson is Muslim. M.K. Perker is Turkish.
O’Malley is famous for Scott Pilgrim, and truth be told I was expecting something pretty similar. But Seconds is its own thing, so good on him for that. Katie is a chef whose second restaurant should be opening soon… but then things start to get bumpy. So when she’s offered the chance to make one past choice differently, she goes for it. But things start to get strange.
There’s a lot of funny in this book, but also a lot of strange magic and plenty of emotion. Life is hard, people! Katie doesn’t always make the best choices. She’s impulsive and has a temper, and she’s a little self-centered. But she’s not a bad person, and I was rooting for her the whole time through the twists and turns and “what if” changes the magic brings about.
Diversity note: Bryan Lee O’Malley is biracial Korean / French-Canadian.
That concludes today’s roundup of magical comics that I love and recommend! If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends.