Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #131 by Drew Barth
The idea of the witch has changed greatly in comic fiction over the past fifty years. From the wart-nosed villains in any adventure and horror comic to a contemporary symbol of magic that can sidle more on the chaotic neutral side of things than the evil ones. As a result of this shift, it feels like witchy-ness and witch-hood have become newer modes for telling stories about magic. And one of the better stories to come out about witches in the past decade just had its first issue release last week: Mamo by Sas Milledge.
Mamo, at its core, is a story about history and the small coastal town of Haresden. This town and history are filtered through Jo Manalo and her own perceptions of what has been happening to the town and her family for the past few years. We get these bits and pieces as she walks with Orla O’Reilly—the grandchild of Haesden’s late town witch—and learn how much has changed. Or, in some cases, how much things have been forgotten. Routine traps by the fae are almost Jo’s own downfall, despite the fact that recognizing those traps is common knowledge in this world. And while we don’t know the full extent of things just yet, we can feel that the curse on Jo’s mother could be affecting her in ways she doesn’t realize just yet.
What is most striking throughout this first issue is the way in which Milledge is able to maintain this quiet energy in every page. If this had a soundtrack, you could almost hear the single, sustained cello note being continuously. This isn’t a negative energy being shown, but something bordering on intrigue and about to teeter over into peril. Even though there is a curse being referred to throughout this issue, that isn’t the source of this sense of unease. Every motion from Jo and Orla plays on this idea as they’re both constantly unsure of what to make of the other. And the panels they interact in only get smaller and smaller as the first issues progresses—going from these sweeping splash pages in the beginning and ending with cramp quarters at the issue’s climax. It is one of the most inventive uses of the medium I’ve seen in a while.
There is a singular vision in Mamo that Milledge captures perfectly throughout this first issue—appropriate as Milledge is the sole creator credited on this series. And that vision is trying to show us so much in our relationships with magic, history, nature, and just people at large. But the story does all of these with such a deft hand that you never once feel like you’re being pulled out of the story to be told about these themes, but they flow into you just as easily as reading.
Get excited. Get witchy.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.