Review: AN EMBARRASSMENT OF WITCHES by Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan

An Embarrassment of Witches

An Embarrassment of Witches. Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan. Top Shelf Productions, $19.99 (208p)

Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, make room for our main character, Rory Rosenberg, who could be called, Rory the Millennial Slacker. Cartoonist Sophie Goldstein’s new graphic novel, co-authored with Jenn Jordan, revels in the drama and the humor found within a community of young people who just happen to be supernatural. An Embarrassment of Witches has just been released by Top Shelf Productions.

An Embarrassment of Witches

Goldstein draws in a highly-composed and spare style which concentrates the action and evenly loads the page. Follow along the path led by a series of short lines forming simple shapes, all the better to focus the viewer’s attention onto one spot. A deftly-drawn hand becomes a container which acts like a picture frame, bouncing the viewer’s attention back if it starts to drift off. Like a neon light, well-executed drawings keep your attention steadily connecting from one spot to the next. Goldstein keenly understands the power of comics. Her work catapults the reader into the story. We quickly get it that Rory has just been abandoned by her boyfriend and that she does not do well with change nor with plans for the future. And then, just as we’re processing that, we quickly accept that she’s a witch in a supernatural world of witches, dragons, and hobgoblins. It’s up to Rory to figure out her next move, especially after she has to backtrack on a much anticipated vacation which was supposed to allow her more time to relax and not think about her future.

An Embarrassment of Witches

Goldstein is a 2013 graduate of the prestigious Center for Cartoon Studies. The very next year, she won the much coveted Ignatz Award for her mini-comic, House of Women, Part I. In 2017, House of Women was collected and published by Fantagraphics. In 2015, Goldstein released The Oven, published by AdHouse Books. House of Women and The Oven are quite different but share the same off kilter sensibility. Goldstein clearly has a magic way with a touch of strange. Both stories are set on other worlds and, while the characters deal with universal struggles, everything is spiked with a deliciously unsettling quality. It’s as if Goldstein figured out the look and feel to her universe of comics ahead of time and then moved forward with a very distinctive and purposeful vision.

An Embarrassment of Witches

As if often the case with comics of the highest caliber, much of the fun is simply going along the journey. It matters little if Rory becomes a veterinarian or a talk show host. The reader is hooked and is rooting for Rory, in the same spirit as we all root for Sabrina and for Buffy.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Review: AN EMBARRASSMENT OF WITCHES by Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan

  1. Except from being very appealing pictures by their own, I find this to be a lovely tribute to Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898–1972). He was a Dutch graphic artist inspired by mathematics and philosophy and well-known for his “impossible” geometrical figures and perspectives as well as other peculiar geometrical structures and illusions.

    In the book “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” (1979) the author Douglas Hofstadter put Escher on the same level as the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel (generally considered to be the greatest logician since Aristoteles) and Johan Sebastian Bach (no presentation needed). Hofstadter – who is a physicist, cognitive scientist, philosopher, etc. – presents and discusses the work of these three genii (in particular Gödel) in relation to the emergence of human cognition from hidden neurological mechanisms. Admittedly, the book is a bit chewy, but can just be enjoyed for the numerous Escher pictures and the author’s interpretations or comments of the same (though embedded in the body text).

    Oscar Reutersvärd was a Swedish artist mainly contemporary with Escher. The art of Reutersvärd very much resembles that of Escher in terms of “impossible” geometrical figures, but without living objects. As a student, in 1934, Reutersvärd created the “impossible triangle”, today known as the Penrose triangle after Lionel and Roger P. (father and son) who had developed the triangle independently of Reutersvärd. A variation of the triangle is the “impossible stairs” or “Penrose stairs”. In fact, this was developed independently of all three, that is Reutersvärd, Escher, and the Penroses.

    There is another noteworthy connection, while from the scientific perspective: Roger Penrose, who also is a famous mathematical physicist and philosopher, argues that an ever so complex machine never can be able to simulate a human brain so as to become “conscious”. On the other hand, in his book, Douglas Hofstadter, argues that this indeed would be possible, at least in principle, while he still (in 2017) recognizes that we are far from it. Interestingly enough, both Penrose and Hofstadter base much of their arguments on Gödel’s masterpiece, his incompleteness theorem.

    • Jernis,
      I am delighted with your erudite offering. There is much to chew on here! Well, I do hope you’ll get a chance to look over the work of Sophie Goldstein as she is a true original. I find her work quite mesmerizing. Yes, as you state, she does provide a wonderful tribute to MC Escher for the cover of her latest book.
      Best regards,
      Henry

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