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Princess Witch Boy

Storm writer and artist
Joshua Richardson letterer
Self published

“Do as I do and scrap your fey ways”
“Grow up, be a man, and close your mealy-mouth”

“How I dearly wish I was not here”
Every Day Is Like Sunday

– Morrissey, from the Viva Hate album

Yes, I have a reason for starting a review with very cherry picked lyrics from Morrissey’s 1988 Viva Hate album. You’ll see  why in a bit.

Princess, witch, boy. Three little words, all names of very different things. Put together they make for an unusual and for me intriguing title, though when J K Parkin mentioned it in a Robot 6 blog post I let it slip by. Somewhere I came across another mention I visited the link and was met with an image of an androgynous boy’s face superimposed over a woman’s head with enigmatic eyes. I thought, perhaps from the juxtaposition of princess, witch, and boy that this was probably a cute and breezy, fairy tale like adventure. Well, breezy hardly, though it is the tale touching on the faerie world and as Storm refers to his work, a fantasy memoir. Yes, that’s another odd mix of words, and apt ones I believe. How much of the two stories is which might be open to interpretation, and I’ve my own idea of one outweighing the other.

Turning the title page of the first issue, “Gateway”, reveals the lone word “sissy” in larger font sitting squarely above a block of text. “Sissy” is the word that I did not have at the age of five when I realized I was somehow different. A year later it was the first word I had to describe what I was, and from the way my dear grandmother spoke it to my mother I knew she didn’t see it as desirable. What follows the pejorative (though it’s being reclaimed) is a dense list of rules to follow in order not to be one. They’re all ones you heard told to you and repeated often as a child. The sayings about rules are true: live by them, break them, throw them out, make your own.  I’m happy that Storm broke them, threw them out, and made his own to live by.

The story that follows reveal the young boy’s, whose first name is never told, growing awareness of a metaphysical world with personal spirit guides as his greatly troubled father’s behavior descends to a terrible act. Told in a combination of images and pared down text in the first comic, the story is plumbed to full extent in the second, titled “Replica”, through a blend of comics format in the first half and prose interspersed with full page illustrations in the second.

The titular Replica is one of the three spirits (the other two being a female djinn and a sorceress) the boy draws with colored pencils bought by his mother. Also a woman (his own personal triple goddess?), Replica is a shapeshifter spy on an adventure searching for the fortress tower Library of Knowledge for the mythical Tome of Prognostication. Contrast the boy’s creative imagination with unrealistic duties in the mundane world, a problematic father, a favored sister who takes his Star War figures and makes Darth Vader kiss C3PO (“They love each other”), and a mother confrontational over comics (too gay) and music (fey prophet Morissey and “Viva Hate” favored over former dear shiny Christian Michael W. Smith) because she suspects he’s a sissy. The parallel stories of the boy and his and family and of Replica that the boy creates and how the boy draws upon the latter when all comes crashing down around the family is most imaginative. And strong, now listening to Morrissey’s singing in my apartment, and silently the other times I’ve read the comics, perhaps for reasons confessed in the following paragraph.

In my reading of Princess Witch Boy I came across passages, sometimes just a snippet, that recalled memories of my own familial experiences and a comic derived fantasy I created to cope when my father’s alcohol-fueled loathing and later religious hypocrisy was too much to deal with. Like Princess Witch Boy, drawing inspired by comics was another refuge though my teenaged youth’s queer muse was the glam David Bowie. Perhaps it’s simple projection on my part from these and other experiences not to be shared that the story of Princess Witch Boy seems much more real, more memoir than fantasy. And a barely noticeable nod to Alan Moore’s Promethea, yes. Princess Witch Boy, you may be only ink and words on paper, here then, but I think I know a part of you and that is powerful storytelling.

With a wuvable oaf, a super tranny, a pair of lovers in Victorian England, unintentional civil rights activist Toland Polk, a closeted investigator in 1950s San Francisco, and sundry other comics, and now a Princess Witch Boy, it’s been a very good year!

Visit Stormantic to learn more about Storm and Princess Witch Boy. Check for both editions of PWB at Swankety Swank if you’re in San Francisco and not Isotope Comics which I’m told is currently sold out though worth a visit in itself. If not, you’ll have to purchase the second book through Storm’s Etsy shop.

January 18, 2011
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