Do you like witches, gays, and found family? Do you never tire of magical fictional teens and their supernatural angst? Is there a Buffy– or Baby-Sitter’s Club– or Motherland: Fort Salem-shaped hole in your heart? In other words, are you literally me and everyone I love? Well, I have some good news for you: Writer Jennifer Dugan (Melt With You, Some Girls Do, and Hot Dog Girl) and artist Kit Seaton (Wonder Woman: Warbringer) are releasing a graphic novel into the wild just in time for spooky season. It’s called Coven, and it’s everything you love about enchanted youths — but gayer and more racially diverse. Plus: queer love and an adorable cat. It is, as they say in the hit film Twilight, a home run.
It goes like this: Emsy’s mom was Head Witch in her family’s coven in upstate New York, but when Emsy was young, she stepped down from her role and moved the family across the country to California. Unlike her witchy peers, Emsy didn’t grow up learning about and honing her craft. She grew up at the beach, falling in love with other lesbians and snagging herself a girlfriend. She’s enjoying a perfectly normal high school life, thank you very much, until word arrives that members of her family’s coven are being murdered. Emsy is whisked back across the country and tossed into a messy, otherworldly situation she resents with her entire hormonal heart. She doesn’t want anything to do with the other coven kids, but when it turns out the witch hunter is after her family, it’s up to her to actually learn how to use her magic to solve the grisly mysteries unfolding in her hometown and keep her family safe.
Awesome, right? If this was a movie trailer, you’d be tweeting it with a sobbing emoji right now.
Basically all the teens in Emsy’s coven are queer in one way or another, and while she hates their guts on sight, at first — she’d rather be SURFING, okay? — she ends up needing them and then loving them too. The magic system and world-building in Coven are really fun and engaging, especially for a graphic novel on the shorter side. And, of course, Emsy turns out to be more powerful than her wildest imagination. It’s not just Emsy with the misgivings. It turns out her fellow magical teens don’t exactly trust her, and some even blame her and her family for the murder spree that’s unfolding around them. None of the queer witches are closeted or fretting about their queerness in any way. They have to keep their magic hidden, but their sexuality is as chill as the non-surfable waters of the great northeast.
My only real quibble with this book is it’s too short! I wish it was twice as long, or a trilogy! The characters are all so interesting; and this weird little town is like Upside Down Stars Hollow (a very exciting place to be, in my opinion); and I think the payoff of Emsy becoming a super powerful, coven-saving witch would be even more triumphant if the build up was a little bit more fleshed out.
This is my first time engaging with Kit Seaton’s art, and it is so expressive and moody I can’t wait to go back and read everything she’s worked on. It’s also my first experience with writer Kit Seaton, and she’s won me over too. She employs my favorite recapping technique: saying the absurd thing that’s happening right out loud. At one point, one of Emsy’s new friends chides her for spending so much time surfing. “It’s not a very useful skill to have when you’re being stalked by a Death Witch, in the middle of a Witch War, four hours from sea!”
Honestly, that line of dialogue alone is a better selling point for this novel than any review ever will be.