In The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse, eleven-year-old Effie is dropped on the doorstep of her step-Aunt Selimene’s Ditmas Park house in the middle of the night. Selimene and her housemate Carlota weren’t expecting the arrival, but they have been looking for an apprentice – and perhaps Effie is more suited to that position than she initially appears!
The Witches of Brooklyn is an engaging, thoughtful, and original graphic novel that respects both its characters and its readers.
Living with the Herbalists
Before Effie is completely brought into the magic fold, Selimene and Carlota describe themselves as “herbalists” to her. They explain that many of the plants cultivated in their personal garden have healing properties, and tell her that they embody an ancient tradition of using plants to treat everyday aches and pain. They also provide acupuncture services, which they explain to Effie is a method of reopening blocked energy passages.
While Carlota and Selimene also engage in more overtly magical spells, the comic makes a point of including these more “realistic” herbalist activities. The inclusion of these actual functions that have long been associated with witchcraft is one of the ways that The Witches of Brooklyn sets itself apart as a thoughtful, perceptive story about magic hidden in plain sight.
Another one of the highlights of The Witches of Brooklyn is the way that it approaches Effie’s disillusionment with her musical idol, pop star Tily Shoo. Disappointed that Shoo is not the person that she presented herself to be, Effie declares that she is never going to listen to Shoo’s music again. It’s a predicament that many readers have had to face, or will have to face in the future.
Selimene points out that Shoo’s songs haven’t changed despite the disappointing behavior, but Effie counters that she’s never to listen to Shoo’s music again. Carlota notes that while it is possible to separate the art from the artist, it is also possible to “love something less” because of disagreements with the artist. Ultimately, they respect Effie’s autonomy, and allow her to make her own decisions about how she wants to react to Shoo’s less-than-stellar behavior.
Rather than pretend there is an easy answer to the conundrum faced by Effie, both Carlota and Selimene give her the most valuable tool in such a situation – the truth – and then make it clear that her decision will be respected and supported once she makes it. It’s an excellent demonstration of why Selimene and Carlota are such fantastic mentors for Effie, and it’s an important reminder for readers that their feelings about art are, to paraphrase Selimene, their feelings and their feelings alone.
The look of a witch
Visually, the characters are well designed and each have their own distinct vibe, with Carlota and Selimene being especially an especially delightful pair of characters. While they are drawn very differently from one another, it is immediately apparent that they belong alongside each other.
The maps of the house are another visual highlight. Included in the midst of the text instead of preceding it (the maps instead appear as Selimene and Carlota give Effie a tour of the house, thereby allowing the reader to see the lay of the land the same time that Effie does). These detailed layouts of the house include helpful labels – the best of which may be “private deck for private affairs” – and are generally a delight to behold. The best of them all may be the map of the secret witchcraft room, revealed separate from the rest of the house later in the text.
And the colors of The Witches of Brooklyn are another delightful highlight. Many of the scenes are set at night, and accordingly, the panels are filled with warm shades of purple.
On top of all the other lovely things in The Witches of Brooklyn, there are plenty of seeds for future stories, including the suggestion that the diminutive pet dog Lion may be more than he appears and the fact Effie has been staying in the conspicuously absent Panda’s bedroom.
Hopefully, readers won’t have to wait too long for a sequel, because it is difficult not to want to return to the world of The Witches of Brooklyn as soon as the cover has been closed.