The Wizerd! and the Potion of Dreams
Michael Sweater and Rachel Dukes
September 8, 2020
“For aspiring cartoonists of all ages. You don’t need a wishing potion to create comics. Start today!”
It’s with these words that The Wizerd! and the Potion of Dreams opens, a dedication that speaks to a democratization of the comics process that both Dukes and Sweater embody with both their creations and commitment to making the often shadowy and secretive artform more accessible. The Wizerd! is a perfect example of the pair’s immense talent and beautiful disregard for the “rules” that many comics are defined by. Written by Sweater, but co-drawn by both artists–and designed beautifully by Chad W. Beckerman–in the kind of collaboration that we rarely see, this is a stunning creative feat that also just so happens to be woven with a sense of kindness and care that is often lacking in all storytelling. Plus, it’s a really, really good comic.
Immersive and fantastical, The Wizerd! acts as an acerbic yet sweet all-ages fairytale. Far from the dark and often horror-tinged world of the Brothers Grimm, this is a charming Technicolor dreamworld where magic is real, cute creatures reign supreme, and every page is filled with the kind of detail that any comic book fan will want to spend hours poring over. It’s this tonal balance and level of creative ingenuity that seems to make The Wizerd! uniquely poised to be a hit with fans both old and young. Dukes and Sweater are both extremely talented cartoonists and fans who have read Sweater’s work like Please Destroy the Internet, Please Destroy My Enemies, and Please Keep Warm will be used to his specific brand of silly and scathing humor. The combination works perfectly, as the pair craft a collection of intricate pages you’d die to live in.
The titular magic-wielder lives a relaxing and reclusive life in their tower. Living in the shadows both figuratively (their father was a famed Wizerd before them) and literally (they live in a magical tower), their introduction is a quiet and cozy one with gardening, plenty of beautiful foliage, tea, and the occasional steaming cauldron. Dukes and Sweater cleverly establish the visual landscape of their world; if there’s a nook it will be stacked with all kinds of treasures, if there’s a cranny it will likely hold something you’d never notice with a second look, humans can talk to animals, magic is very real, and there’s wonder to be found in every corner. The Wizerd! is an expert example of “show not tell” sequential storytelling as pretty much all of the world-building and exposition is explored via the dense and engaging visuals, making for an unique read.
Kids comics can often be either overtly simple or overwritten to the point of diversion. The Wizerd! bucks those trends, creating a character-driven story that’s always anchored in the splendid and sprawling world where the story takes place. One of my favorite things about the books are the wordless double page spreads that the duo use to great effect, making the book feel like it’s a secret art gallery, occasionally showcasing immensely detailed friezes in its pages. This is the true power of The Wizerd!; sure, it’s a cool adventure story that leans into the things we love about fantasy romps, but it’s also a work of art that is both accessible and impressive. There’s no right way to read this book, a nine-year-old does not have to pick up Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to be able to find joy and excitement in its pages. But it does still push the boundaries of what young readers–heck any age–comics can be. The pastel simplicity of many popular kids comics is nowhere to be seen, there are no panels lacking a background; in fact, you’ll find more exciting and intricate backgrounds here than most publishers put out in a year.
As a huge fan of many young readers comics, I am not saying any of this to make some value judgement that The Wizerd! is better than these other books, just that it offers up something totally different. We all know that kids are the driving force behind comic book sales and that means they deserve diversity in their options. The Wizerd! adds a beautifully weird string to the bow of kids comics, whilst also being a great read for comics fans of any age. Just like all of the pair’s work, the sparkling fantasy is imbued with commentary and curiosity. There’s even a shoutout to icon comics creator Steve Ditko, whose name is tagged on the walled city where our adventurers end up. As for how successful the crew is on their quest, well you’ll have to pick up the comic to find out, but be reassured that it’s a vibrant quest that sets up a second book that I cannot wait to pick up.