(The podcast version of this review is below, you can also find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the top of this page and a short video review can be found at the bottom.)
When you have a writer that creates memorable characters and well crafted and interesting stories, you always want more.
Artist, writer, and comic book creator Rachael Smith has built a loyal following with her autobiographical comic strips.
These sit neatly alongside her fictional works that also playfully but genuinely examine our social and emotional foibles. During the pandemic her daily Quarantine Comix not only resonated with many people, but also showcased her winning ability to address what can be HUGE emotional thoughts with nimble humour and wit.
It was around this time that I spoke to Rachael for an early episode of Humanish and whilst she couldn't talk about some of her upcoming work she did say: “I'm working on Isabella and Blodwen. That’s about a young girl and a malevolent witch and their kind of strange relationship.”
Upon hearing that I excitedly declared it sounded exactly like the type of show Netflix would go for and that “in the next three years, it’s going to be on.” Well, that was just over 3 years ago so …
The premise for Isabella and Blodwen is right up my street and reminded me a little of the fantastical story Rachael created in one of her previous books - Rabbit. Both have a larger than life disruptive character who arrives to wreak havoc for our hero but this time we are led in a different direction with a more playful tone masking some of the darker thoughts.
Our hero is Isabella - a precocious 16 year old who is struggling with the social aspect of life at Oxford University. Highly strung and anxious, but also brilliant and determined, she has no time for her flatmates - even the well-meaning one - as she is determined to pour her time and energy into securing a summer internship with her favourite professor.
It is on a Uni trip to Pitts River Museum that an incident occurs that leads to the centuries old witch Blodwen being unleashed. Despite coming across like the frenzied child of Slimer from Ghostbusters and Grotbags, Blodwen professes to want to help Isabella. Although her chaotic witchery comes across more like sabotage.
(As a side note - this gave me some weird flashbacks to 20 years ago when I ended up at that same museum on a trip when I was with an ex and their mum took us there. Anyway, after some brief therapy I was able to finish the book.)
On my first read through I loved the artwork, especially the shape shifting BIG persona of Blodwen. Rachael’s skills at depicting such nuanced emotions and thoughts in character’s expressions means that when she does rely on words, they are completely necessary and are delivered with zest. It was on the second read through that I honed in on the storyline of “I don’t know how to fit in whilst being me”. This is often given to teenage characters but it is something that I’ll admit to still finding tricky at the age of …not a teenager.
After listening to the podcast series “Witch”, I also went back to read the parts where Blodwen corrects an historical story about witches - and it’s appropriate that the mistelling is given by a cock sure - in more ways than one - male professor. The art and colour for these retellings are lush and also help elevate the story and Blodwen.
The odd couple relationship of the two main characters has echoes of the manic energy of Bottom and I couldn’t help but imagine Blodwen as a female Rik Mayall. Maybe I was thinking of Drop Dead Fred? There is a fun contrast between the ancient but impulsive Blodwen and the young but apprehensive Isabella, and there’s a nice balance with the caring flatmate Annie. Between them, there’s a sweet and important tale of who’s got your back when you need it most.
This might sound odd but there’s an element of Speilberg’s early family films to this book in that depending on your age you’ll relate to and respond to different parts of the story. And I know we might be reaching a point of fatigue with expanded stories and Universes but I really could go for an Isabella and Blodwen series to follow these characters and at least take Isabella through University.
Like I said, when you have a writer that creates memorable characters and well crafted and interesting stories, you always want more.
Biscuit rating: Mini Party Rings.
My Biscuit Rating for Isabella and Blodwen is mini party rings - slightly chaotic and colourful fun and good for sharing.