Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky, color by Geov Chouteau, 208 pp, RL 4
Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky
color by Geov Chouteau
Published by RH Graphic
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
With Witchlight, Zabarsky creates a compelling world where matriarchal communities thrive and nature is an integral part of life for humans and witches, with prejudice and ignorance hovering at the edges. There is much to love about Witchlight, but it is the immersive landscape that Zabarsky created that stands out and stays with you. Nature is everything in this world, from the open air market where we first meet Sanja, selling tubers at her family's stall, to the woods where Lelek takes (kidnaps...) Sanja to hideout. As their bond forms, Sanja and Lelek travel on foot from town to town. Panels are dedicated to scenes of walking through meadows, peering through tall reeds, rain falling on leaves and hands picking fruit and flowers. The world of Witchlight is lush and bountiful, accepting. Even the magic practiced by Lelek flows through nature. Hoping to make a living by challenging other witches to battle, Lelek meets her match in Dhana, who wins the match by burying Lelek in the earth, only her head sticking out. The palette of Witchlight, while pale and mutes, is expansive and help tell the story. As Lelek and Sanja make their way from town to town, colors change. Lemon yellow, coral and teal give way to the warm golden glow of a campfire at night, black borders framing the pages. Cool blues and greens are reserved for dreams and memories and the arrival of winter. The colors are enhanced by the details and patterns throughout the novel, from individual blades of grass and leaves on trees, to the designs on woven baskets, pottery, and clothes that fill the markets in the villages Sanja and Lelek visit.
The conflict in this world, the danger that bookends the story, comes from men. When we first meet Lelek, she is being physically threatened by a man she sold a phony amulet to. Near the end of the novel, Sanja's brother thinks he is saving her and pleasing his father by giving in to his prejudice when he pulls his sword. Winter falls on the world of Witchlight and Sanja is left alone. However, the novel ends with a verdant spring. Rich purples, blues and viridian are accented with the lemon yellow and the coral that has been constant throughout. This bounty of color is matched in the story, which closes with a scene of family and friends, gathered in the kitchen for a beautiful feast.
Witchlight is an unforgettable graphic novel that I will read over and over. I can't wait to see what worlds Zabarsky (and Chouteau) conjure next.