What if teen witches acted like real teens, mean and bitchy and selfish? That’s the appeal of Spell Checkers, a black-and-white graphic novel out later this month from Oni Press. It’s written by Jamie S. Rich, illustrated by Nicolas Hitori de, and Joelle Jones contributes additional art.
Three girls cast a spell to give them power, vowing to be best friends forever. Now they’re in high school, and the way they rule the school is being questioned. Normally, they send duplicates to gym class and magically copy homework, but their spells aren’t working. Graffiti calls them names, they’re fighting over a guy, and in general, they’re cursed.
I like this story for demonstrating understanding of high school girl psychology. It’s remarkably easy to convince the witches that one of them is responsible, because underlying their powerful facade is fear and jealousy, based in the knowledge that they don’t deserve what they have. They’re forced together, and they don’t really like each other all that much any more. The friends you have when you’re young aren’t necessarily the ones you want to keep your whole life, and people change a lot, especially during high school.
While there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in seeing spoiled brats get theirs, I was surprised at how I was rooting for Cynthea, Kimmie, and Jesse to win, even when it took lying and back-stabbing to do it. I attribute that to the writer’s skill at quickly and effectively creating realistic voices. Plus, Jamie Rich writes funny dialogue, like this favorite exchange:
Who do we know that hates me and is a bad speller?
The whole school. Have you seen our standardized test scores lately?
I was reminded of Killer Princesses, only younger. I get the impression that these girls would act the same way with or without magic; if they didn’t have spells, they’d just find other ways to cheat on tests and screw people over. (As confirmed in a flashback sequence; those are illustrated by Joelle Jones.) Visually, the artist makes the girls look cute and friendly, not the demonic self-obsessives they are. I enjoyed reading the cattiness; it’s exaggerated fun.
Greg McElhatton calls the book “gleefully mean-spirited” and says the bitchier you like your Mean Girls, the more you’ll like this. Jamie talked a bit about how the series got started when I interviewed him last year. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)