I have never been a webcomic reader. In theory, I probably should be—I love comics and I spend way too much time on the Internet. But I’m also a big fan of print copies (I don’t like digital comics either), and if I’m being perfectly honest, if I don’t get e-mail reminders I won’t remember to check for updates (this go for all websites, not just webcomics). So while others were reading Nimona and Hyperbole and a Half, I was unfortunately clueless until some wise publisher decided to collect them.
All that has changed with Witchy by Ariel Ries. Witchy is everything I want in a story—there’s magic, drama, and a host of fabulous and diverse characters. I devoured the existing pieces in one sitting, put a reminder in my calendar to check it every week, and have been spreading the word ever since.
I thought about writing a review or a feature on Witchy, but the fabulous people at Autostraddle have already done such a great job of that. So I figured why not go to the source? Why not talk to the mastermind Ariel Ries herself?
Hi Ariel! Tell us a little about your webcomic, Witchy and the world of Hyalin. Where did the idea first come from?
Well, Witchy was initially a short story idea about a witch village where witches were slowly disappearing into the surrounding woods. Back then, the hair hierarchy was hair colour based, not hair length, and the main character would dye her hair different colours to disguise the fact that her hair colour was considered weak. The hair length thing didn’t come around until a friend, who I had previously told the story to, accidentally remembered magic strength being about hair length rather than hair colour, and I was like, “Whoa, that’s actually a way better idea,” so shout out to Vivian for that one. Basically, after I started thinking more about hair based magic, I decided that the concept was too cool for a short story and started expanding the story into what Witchy is today. It’s changed a LOT since the initial idea.
As for Hyalin, it was originally very derivative of Moebius’s fantasy stuff, before I decided it would be nice to have a fantasy story with a setting inspired by Asia (especially with Southeast Asian, South Asian, and Islamic influences, because you see that a lot less than East Asian stuff) instead of Europe. I’m Indonesian on my mother’s side, and I’ve visited all over Asia throughout my life, so it was a very natural choice.
Oops, I kinda half answered this already, but there’s a deeper reason too. I liked the idea of having a system of prejudice that wasn’t based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, or anything considered out of the “norm” in our own world. I wanted my characters to move freely regardless of anything but their hair length, because I want minorities (or those we consider minorities in the western world) to see themselves in the same positions and situations that we usually only award the privileged in media.
What is the process of creating your webcomic? What steps do you take to get an update ready each week?
I’m a full time animation student, so I only “officially” work on Witchy on the weekends. Sunday is usually the day when I’ll rough, ink, and colour a whole page, and then if i don’t finish it I’ll chip away at it for the rest of the week. I update on Tuesdays, but I have about a two week buffer so I don’t have to stress about finishing a page on the weekend if I’m busy. If it’s not the weekend though, chances are I’m still thinking about Witchy. I’m always jotting down little story notes or page compositions or thumbnails as I come up with them. Webcomics are a full time job for me.
Why did you choose to make Nyneve the centre of your story instead of one of the other characters like Batu or Prill?
I think this decision will make more sense as the story unravels, and especially as chapter three comes to a close, but I like Nyneve as a main character because she balances this fine line between privilege and disadvantage, and the death of her father has affected her world view in a way that young witches like Batu or Prill can’t really empathize with. I think she might not seem as fun as Batu and Prill are, but she’s very empathetic, and, as Witchy is my first webcomic, she’s also a character I find easy to relate to, which I think will make the story stronger.
One of the witches, Prill, is a transgender woman. Why was it important for you to include her and what did you do to make sure you got her character right?
As a general rule, I’m invested in the representation of characters that you rarely see in media, and while I was writing Witchy in 2012 and 2013, I saw a lot of posts from the trans community on Tumblr expressing a desire to see trans characters in fantasy or sci-fi settings, and trans characters not defined by their transness, and I thought Witchy was a good opportunity for me to include a character like this (or, several characters). Prill’s story is not about her struggles, and it was never going to be. It’s about her triumphs. I wanted Prill to be a character that my trans friends, and trans people everywhere, could relate to in a positive way. My thanks goes to Eva Problems for reading over the initial script for the scene outside the medimage’s office and giving me some helpful feedback. Also, thanks to Ivy, who makes the wonderful comic Computer Love, for continuously discussing my representation of trans characters with me and for making me think about how trans women in particular are represented in the media. I couldn’t have done this without them.
Which character is the most fun to draw/write? Which one is the hardest?
Prill and Veda are both characters I really love and love to write. They both have very interesting motivations to me and are both super strong, super cool ladies in their own ways. I like drawing Batu because he’s kinda cute and kinda sexy and people are really into him, and I love that! He’s also the character I find easiest to come up with dorky pastimes for, like reading romance novels. I know, I said I like Nyneve as a main character because I relate to her, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t hard to write. It’s hard trying to write someone who is similar, but at the same time vastly different to you. I mean, I don’t live in a society like Hyalin and both my parents are still alive. It’s a challenge, but also interesting to write a protagonist character like her.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
Yes! currently I’m actively working on a story for Serafina Dwyer’s comic anthology project Love in All Forms: The Big Book of Growing Up Queer, the Kickstarter of which will be launched in early March, so keep your eyes peeled! There’s a lot of other great artists and writers on the project, and I’m super excited to be a part of it.
More passively, I’m always slowly working on a story/universe of mine called Ghost Dust, which is set in a human colony in another galaxy after human’s messed up the earth and made it uninhabitable. While the humans are traveling to this other planet in this other galaxy, they fly through this nebula which imbues some people with mild super-human powers. It’s set after the humans have been settled for about 50 years or so, and the main character is a girl who I refer to as “magical girl Naruto” and the only people whose super-human powers are useful enough to actually help people; a group called The Oneironauts. It has less superhero vibes than it seems, and is more reminiscent of 90s sci-fi or cyberpunk anime, as well as tidbits from the magical girl genre.
The story of Ghost Dust is actually more tied down than it is for Witchy; it even has about a 50 page prologue, because it’s a project with characters I’ve had as long as 7 years. It’s a story I didn’t want to tell as my first comic, and I’m glad I didn’t because writing Witchy has given me a lot of good experience, and a lot of ideas of what I’d like to explore in Ghost Dust, too. Ideally, I’ll be able to work on it after I finish Witchy, but it really depends if I get a job first!
Do you have any plans to make a hard copy of Witchy? (If yes put me down for one!)
Yes, definitely. I have plans of printing a first volume after I finish chapter 3, probably through an online service, because both Denmark and Australia have ridiculously expensive printing costs, wahhh. My sister is FORTUNATELY a publisher, so there’s no problem getting Witchy typeset, but really the biggest hurdle is the cost and energy of shipping, and doing it all in Denmark when, basically I don’t speak a word of Danish. I know there’s probably options out there so if anyone knows of them… hit me up…