Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest‘s latest release What is a Witch is a thing of wonder. An oversized comic with deep, luscious colours, beautifully lettered and fascinating from start to finish. This is to be expected from Tin Can Forest (the pen name of Toronto artists Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek). Their art is phenomenal, but their collaboration with Pam Grossman is simply astonishing. What is a Witch is an enchanting look at witchcraft, but mostly, at femininity and its inherent strength.
What is a Witch pits at odds various conceptions and misconceptions of what a witch may be. From the long opening pages filled with cryptic symbols, the reader moves on to beautifully illustrated pages accompanied by verses of poetry questioning what a witch might be. It uses various elements of folklore to question our misconception of the word. Is a witch an old evil woman or a young seductress? Pam Grossman & Tin Can Forest ask whether the various depictions of witches be reconciled and if so, could they coalesce into a cohesive whole. Perhaps, as they posit, a witch is simply a woman with agency, or a nurturing free-spirited woman, or a teacher and healer, or is someone who understands the value of the natural world and the importance of being a decent person. The artists combine all of these acquired notions into something whole by the end of the book. A witch is a complex multifaceted individual, like every living being in it’s own way. What is a Witch combines these elements, but also talks about what witches do. Witches cultivate, harvest and cure, “Fungus among us, Garlic Bulbs, I feed you Root Wisdom”. Witches read and gather knowledge from no single book. Witches have many interests and they want you to expand your mind and become a better version of yourself.
The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous. The oversized comic allows for the art to breathe and truly shine. It allows the reader to see the details in the shapes and colours. Tin Can Forest’s work seems to have an otherworldly feeling of esoteric charm. It looks at you and forces you to stare back in awe at the details and mastery of each image, each page, each panel. Each page requires you to slow down your reading and take the information in. It’s enchanting and perfectly suited for the story at hand. I had never heard of the author Pam Grossman. She’s the creator of Phantasmaphile. Her knowledge of the world of witchcraft and the arts makes her particularly well-suited for this type of tale. Her mastery of the topic and the pen allows this story to feel refreshing and unique. It’s a clever deconstruction of the myths surrounding witches and witchcraft. The combination of Pam Grossman’s story and Tin Can Forest’s art pairs fantastically in this book.
Tin Can Forest books come out annually and it’s a celebration each time. I remember reading We are going to Bremen to be Musicians, their previous collaboration with Geoff Berner, and it was good, but What is a Witch truly shines and I can’t recommend it enough, particularly with Halloween right around the corner.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.