"This madness will stop lest we all descend into poverty" - Duke of Burgundy
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live", (Exodus 22:18, King James Bible), is the basis for one of the more macabre and misogynist movements thrown up by Christendom and the European nobility. From approximately 1647 to 1783 a campaign was waged through out Europe, and some of the New World colonies, to cleanse society of an apparent plague of devil worshiping citizens threatening the very souls of the righteous. Of course the reality had more to do with Church control and capital gain, but hey let's not cast aspirations here. Wood, Morton, and Chapman, through the course of 192 pages delve into what went down, the reasons for the almost mass hysteria that gripped some parts of Europe, and the eventual collapse of the purges in Europe. Of course in some parts of the world, looking at you Africa, the righteous still actively campaign against dark magic in modern times. Let's see if we can't decipher this spell.
Okay getting the bad out of the way right up front, if I never read the words "Look Upon" again I'll be infinitely happy. Each of the thirteen chapters of Witch Hunts hits off with those two words, and to be honest they drove me crazy. I'm not even sure how they are meant to connect to the Reader, it's like one of those catch phrase failures that regularly adorn daytime television. I'm starting a campaign to expunge the words from the English language. Minor issue I know, but like that dopey jingle from Halloween III, sent to annoy the crap out of me for some unknown reason.
Besides the phrase mentioned above the rest of the script was as solid as a quick tour of major Witch burning antics would allow. Writers Wood and Morton have a pretty expansive remit here and manage to get the scope covered without losing any one on the way. We're talking a short snappy narrative that doesn't belabour points, hit's the tour highlights, and keeps driving through the pages in order to fully cover the subject matter. There are simply no wasted words, an incredible amount of detail, and enough coverage of each major event to have the reader at least up to speed with the subject matter. You will have to read more in depth books to gain additional knowledge, but for most of us Witch Hunts has our backs and gives enough insight to make the Reader a valued source of information at a dinner party … assuming the subject of the persecution of so called "Witches" through the ages is a topic that comes up during the entrée. Of course it does leverage the phrase "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing", but in all honesty outside the odd Historian or people researching for books, the trials and tribulations, see what I did there, of folk accused of witchcraft in previous centuries isn't a burning (no pun intended) issue. I was more than pleased with the coverage, if you want to know more, Wikipedia or something I guess.
Generally when people think "burning witches" they focus on the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials. Catholics and Puritans, it's like fundamentalism before it became chic. Thankfully Wood and Morton spread their wings a bit wider and point out burning was also on the agenda of various protestant groups, found some traction in Scotland, and was fish of the day during the English civil war. Reformation may have broken the Catholic monopoly on European religious thought but it didn't enlighten the witch burning mobs who also got into the whole hysteria thing. Equally the new colonies in America brought their bigotry with them to the probable amazement of local Indian populations, or at least the remnants of those populations after plague and musket balls had finished with them. While the Writers here cover the economics of the with burning movement, those wars tend to cost a bit of coin and where better to fill the coffers prior to a carbon tax, they missed the boat in terms of the use of witch trials to enforce Christendom's hold over areas that held more firmly to older religions. But overall I'm happy with the coverage, learnt a few things I didn't know, and am wondering if the assorted talent on display might not groove on to extending individual stories to graphic novel length.
I guess if I had to draw a comparison between Witch Hunts and something you might already be aware of, it would be to those Classics Illustrated comics that sort to bring great works of literature to the male tween audience that wouldn't be up for the novels. There's the same feeling of authenticity and commitment to achieving a great book. If you are unaware of Classics Illustrated then you are probably on the wrong site anyway, try one of those more highbrow places that expend millions of words on the works of Jane Austin et al.
Greg Chapman, who came to prominence with The Noctuary and Torment, picks up the sketching pencils and goes to town on the artwork for Witch Hunts. Chapman has a fine eye for period detail, styles, and clothes, and nails the expressions throughout of a multitude of characters. While the book doesn't operate in a traditional graphic novel way, Chapman draws it that way which allows for a commonality to run through the pages to good effective. We're talking black and white sketches here, with a touch of the surreal at stages. I might be completely off the reservation here, to coin a U.S term, but I got the distinct impression that Greg Chapman may have been influenced by the work of Maurice Sendak, especially in some of the more fantasy orientated panels.
The purpose of Witch Hunts is to present a quick guide to the subject at hand, Greg Chapman's illustrates match that requirement to perfection.
So I had some fun times in between the covers of Witch Hunts and I think most dark genre fans should score themselves a copy, if only to get a good framework for the novels and movies that adorn the genre. While the book doesn't spend a lot of time with Sabbath coven bake sales, you'll need another source for that sort of filler, it does provide exactly what it claims on the cover. Recommendation people, well worth adding to your collection of dark subject matter.
Witch Hunts is available direct from Publisher MacFaraland and weighs in with a $17.99 price tag. For those in North America, the company has an ordering phone line (800-253-2187) if you prefer. At time of writing I am unaware of an ebook option, but write on in if you fall across one at amazon.com or a like site.