Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Nicolas Hitori de and Joëlle Jones
144 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
How bitchy do you like your bitchy-high-school-girls stories? That, at the end of the day, is going to determine how much you like the new Spell Checkers series of graphic novels from Oni Press. Because trust me, Jamie S. Rich, Nicolas Hitore de, and Joëlle Jones have created a supremely bitchy trio of witches here, and while I suspect that will be a turn-off to some readers, other ones are going to laughing their heads off and cheering the ladies on for much, much more.
The early pages of Spell Checkers Volume 1 set up the status quo fairly quickly; Kimmie, Cynthia, and Jesse are three high school students who rule their school in terms of popularity, three queen bees buzzing their way down the halls. Except, in this case, we have three queen bees who use a stolen spell book to rise to the top of the ranks. It’s a nice twist on the typical "high school is hell" sort of story, doubly so because Spell Checkers is from the viewpoint of the oppressors and not the outsiders struggling to fit in.
At the heart of Spell Checkers, and what will ultimately determine if you like the book or not, is an extremely unapologetic trio of protagonists. They aren’t misunderstood, or "good people trying to break out" like you might see elsewhere. They’re backstabbing, manipulative, slightly lazy, untrustworthy people. They can barely stand to be around each other at times, each of the trio keeping a wary eye on the other two members. And that, really, is why I found that I enjoyed Spell Checkers Vol. 1 so much. Rich’s script is unrelenting as the three suddenly find their magic starting to fail and with it their grip on the school. As they turn on one another and their true colors come out, I didn’t find myself thinking, "I hope they find who is really doing all of these bad things." Instead, my reaction (and presumably the intended one from Rich) was, "Yay, fight!"
The girls are, at this point, largely interchangeable, but I didn’t mind that. We’re still learning how they saunter around the school and rule it, and in many ways they’re almost supposed to be identical save for superficial physical differences. They all scheme and plot, and even have the slightly condescending wave of their papers as they turn them in at the end of class. Down the line I suspect we’ll start seeing more differences between them, but for now they’re still being painted in broad strokes. As long as someone’s tossing out a particularly nasty line towards the other two, or we get to see more of just how each of them treat people not even within the little coven, it’s all good. There’s a lot of good humor here too that isn’t just snappish dialogue, from the group having to deal with a demon in the big finale of the book, to a nicely sadistic elementary school spelling bee that had me snickering. Spell Checkers lets Rich go hog-wild and have fun, and I whole-heartedly approve.
The book is primarily drawn by Hitori de, with Jones providing the art for flashbacks. While I’ve seen a lot of Jones’s art in the past and loved it, this was my first exposure to Hitori de. His style is a lot like westernized manga, with their flip hair and large heads. He’s got the energy level that manga artists who use this style are often associated with, too; when the girls leap across the room or try and claw each other’s eyes out, you can feel the motion building and then exploding across the page. I also like the ever-changing fashions that he brings to the characters, from paperboy caps and distressed jeans, to skirts (of varying lengths) and sweaters. The girls always look like they have real wardrobes, and it’s that attention to detail that helps make Spell Checkers seem more real, magical spells aside. Hitori de’s figures are a times a little too skinny and lanky, with body types either being ultra-skinny or slightly schlubby, but since the book is through the eyes of our skinny witches it’s something that could be a deliberate choice.
Jones tackling the flashback pages is a technique we saw back in Hopeless Savages, and it works well here too. Jones’s art is a little more solid and substantial; unlike Hitori de’s usage of zip-a-tone styled shading, it’s all pure black and white for Jones, and her deep blacks provide an instant visual difference for the reader to pick up on. This is the first time I remember Jones drawing younger characters, though, and her depictions of children for some reason make me pre-disposed to laugh at any incoming punch line. There’s something both sweet and devious about their faces that makes me want to see more of them, even though they’d probably just steal my wallet in the blink of an eye.
Spell Checkers is a gleefully mean-spirited book, and I love it for that. Some readers might find it to be too much, and I can see where the book could end up being a turn-off in that regard. For people who like dark comedy and bitchy dialogue, though, they’re hitting the jackpot. If your favorite parts of the movie Mean Girls were watching the queen bees rule the school and then rip on one another, look no further. Here’s hoping the next volume of the series comes out before too long, because Spell Checkers is a lot of fun.