If there’s one thing I can really appreciate during a pandemic, it’s the idea of employing a full demon summoning circle in order to spend a little quality time with someone.
ThirteeN: Chapter One
March 1st, 2019
The solo project of writer and artist C. Bedford, ThirteeN is billed as a queer sex comedy wherein a witch named Robyn ends up entangled in the afterlife with a demon she’d summoned while still alive, named Laurel. True to the name, the first issue is only thirteen pages long and encompasses the actual summoning of Laurel while Robyn still walks the mortal plane. The issue’s a bit light on plot for a first issue, but that’s all right — it is ultimately a smut comic, after all. The outcome is ultimately fatal for Robyn, but then that’s the point; this first issue is all preamble, setting up the adventure that Bedford intends to tell of these two souls, bound together in the afterlife.
Truth told, I’ve had this issue kicking around my house for a couple of years now, since it was released. I ordered it, read it, put it away, pulled it out, read it again, and so on. It’s the kind of thing I keep coming back to; the demonic themes present are eternal (heh) favorites of mine, the kind of thing my Catholic childhood just sort of ingrained permanently into my psyche. I’m not generally a practicing believer in religion these days, but I do love the details and the solemnity of a ritual, and the choice to begin here with that does wonders for my interest levels. Those are aided by Bedford’s artistic choices here, too; Robyn’s summoning circle is no mere chalk on the floor, nothing so common as a pentagram. Instead it’s an ornately detailed image of a vulva, surrounded by patterns and whorls and a large four-sided diamond shape. When Robyn casts her spell, she does so with a bit of blood drawn with a dagger, and then she plunges that extremely phallic artifact directly into the center of the vulva on the floor. Subtle, right?
When Laurel appears, Bedford’s commitment to doing things a little differently carries through again; given the general artistic style, I don’t think anyone would have looked askance at a simple, sudden flash of light, but instead there are multiple panels as Laurel’s corporeal form congeals from the very lines of the summoning circle, wet-looking globs of goo pulling together with messy sound effects. It’s not the first time I’ve seen demons presenting as a sort of murky sludge, but it’s certainly the first time I’ve seen it presented this way; it’s less that she pulls together, and more like a melting played in reverse. After which, of course, she gets a cute pose, some sparkles, and a “ta-daa!”
There’s a bit of dithering about the terms of summoning a demon, and I expect that future issues will clarify some of those terms even further, but for now, that’s not the point—the point is that Robyn is horny, and Laurel is not at all hesitant to oblige. It’s another case where a queer perspective alters the framing of a common concept; it would be easy for a creator to present Laurel as bound to obedience due to her summoning, but instead, the terms of the summoning are a bit removed; a hookup is outside their parameters, and so some mutual negotiation (and consent!) is involved. Robyn does not make demands or invoke any kind of power; she offers herself up to Laurel, and when she does state her desires, she asks.
C. Bedford’s art is truly beautiful work. The entire issue is presented in a limited color palette, soft mixtures of pinks and sepias that lend the entire book a gentleness that belies the subject matter. Laurel and Robyn both have very distinct looks, and it feels upon viewing the pair together that those looks were strongly considered. Laurel presents as more traditionally femme, in a revealing one-piece, a spiked headband, and a choker, while Robyn embodies pop culture sensibilities of the modern witch, dressed to the wrists and ankles in black mesh with a solid black minidress, all of that topped off with a fur-lined winter cap, complete with ear flaps that reach down to her shoulders. It’s a charming bit of personality, and it makes viewing the two together more interesting; Robyn’s entire look says “just a little bit deviant,” while Laurel’s presents as an almost aggressive depiction of standardized femininity, the kind of thing that I imagine would suit a demoness well when visiting the world of man.
These kinds of choices speak to Bedford’s storytelling ability, and it’s impressive that so much is conveyed in such a short span of pages; the world these two characters inhabit is already an interesting one, in addition to being sexy, and I’m excited to read more. If you’re intrigued, you can find the first two issues on C. Bedford’s Gumroad.