If there ever were a comic that was a summer time fading into fall read, it’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Archie Comics, 2019). If I had read it before writing, “Summer Fun Time Reading ’19,” it would definitely have ended up on the list. And it was a shoo in for this year’s “10 Comics I liked Reading 2019.” And so with summer on its way out the door but still lingering for a 20 minute good-bye in the front hall, let’s talk about Sabrina the Teenage Witch and just how fun and gorgeous it is. Because I think we all could use some fun and gorgeousness right now.
I didn’t read Sabrina the Teenage Witch as a kid. Some of it, I admit, was the bubble cut, which is a metonym for all the parts that didn’t appeal to or alienated me. Mostly, I didn’t feel Archie at the time, but that was before Archie regularly had monsters or KISS in their storylines. And sure, I liked The Craft (1996), but a teen witch and a puppet cat weren’t enough to get me into the Sabrina tv show. Despite my love of Salem the cat gifs, I still struggle.
But I have enjoyed more recent adaptations. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sets Sabrina in a mature but retro world influenced by 1960s and 1970s European horror. They created something horrifying, beautiful and fascinating. Netflix adapted The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina recently and I appreciated how deftly it was done. I especially appreciated how the adaptation gave Sabrina more agency in deciding her own fate.
On the other hand, Tania del Rio’s four-volume, YA Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Magic Within (Archie, 2013-4) is an appealing manga adaptation that is excellent to read curled up in bed. I understand there were single issues, but I read it as it should be–in easy to hold paperback tankōbon.
The new Sabrina the Teenage Witch is a whole separate thing from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Archie’s horror line. Writer Kelly Thompson, artists Veronica and Andy Fish, and letterer Jack Morelli take her back to Sabrina’s young adult version, although a little fantasy or dark fantasy than horror–at least four issues in. And they set it in the relative now. It’s not easy being a teen and young adult fantasy is here to show us how it feels, remind us how it feels or comfort us about it. It’s not easy being a witch, either. And Sabrina Spellman is navigating the world of high school as a new girl and a witch and there are monsters and/or spirits out of nowhere.
I am happy to have all these versions of Sabrina–chilling, magical girl, YA fantasy, and more. It’s interesting seeing Sabrina through different lenses and filters. And one thing Archie Comics has demonstrated extremely well is the flexibility of their world and characters. I like their focus on continuity of character rather than of timeline or whatever else “continuity” means in the world of comics. (And, again, reminds me of things like Classical, mythic heroes—it’s an approach I wish DC and Marvel would take more often, but then they don’t ask me).
In the new run, Sabrina has changed schools because of a magical incident. She is determined not to make the same mistakes and has sworn off magic. Except she ends up using magic because her hair is white and maybe it’s better if it’s blond when she’s around the mortal kids. Why stick out more? And there’s a mean girl bullying another girl and that cannot stand. And there’s two boys who might like her. What’s a teen witch supposed to do in these situations? And what is a teen witch supposed to do when she discovers monsters in the woods, threatening friend and frenemy alike?
Her aunts Zelda and Hilda know what’s going on, but they won’t tell Sabrina what’s going on. Her familiar, Salem, goes along with her when she decides to save her aunts and possibly everyone in Greendale, because he knows he can’t stop her. This all leads to cool artifacts and excellent art.
And, holy cats, is the art fantastic! Veronica and Andy Fish’s art for Sabrina the Teenage Witch is lush, exuberant and vibrant. It reminds me a bit of Jill Thompon’s less angular work, not just in Scary Godmother, but in Beasts Of Burden as well, if there were more purple and orange in Beasts of Burden. It brings to mind, and I mean this in the best way, the coolest of black panther black velvet paintings and sweet 1970s vans with dragons and wizards painted on their sides.
I want to get a van to have this sweet image painted on the side.
I’m always excited to see that Kelly Thompson has something new and I’m always sad when her run on a comic is done.* But it’s so hard for me again to write a piece about her comics because most of what I have to say is, as usual: I like this comic. It’s fun. It’s a great collaboration of writer and artists. The characterization is on point. Read it–you might like it, too!
Thompson’s teen girls are believable, whether teen witches like Sabrina or teen detectives like Nancy Drew. Her dialogue is both witty and natural to the character. She’s good with lone characters and with teams. Some of her lone characters, like Sabrina, are trying hard to be less alone and others, like Jessica Jones, are afraid they’ll be hurt or hurt others, but still have people around them, whether they admit it or not. Thompson made me like Gwenpool in the same way Gail Simone made me like Bane. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, I now enjoy Quentin Quire after she wrote him in West Coast Avengers. I probably don’t have to say this, but Sabrina Spellman is much easier to like than Quentin Quire
And someday I hope to see the Thompsonverse come together. A huge crossover event. And by huge, I mean involving at least 5 characters. At least, but definitely more. I’m just kind of estimating based on Sabrina, Nancy Drew, Jem and the Holograms, and Jessica Jones. And, hell, why not Jeff the Land Shark from the sadly, recently cancelled West Coast Avengers** and Chewie*** from the Captain Marvel books? I’m sure they’d get along swimmingly with Salem.
*This is largely my fault because generally any comic I like published by a major publisher will be cancelled.
**It is a crime that there is no more Jeff the Land Shark. People deserved more Jeff the Land Shark
**Love 4 Chewie 4Ever
Carol Borden is going to have the sweetest van with a black panther painted on the side you have ever seen. She will single-handedly bring back vans.