While I’m not sure, I believe Heart Shaped Skull may be the first comic I’ve reviewed that I learned of through Twitter. It is the comic-diary of Serenity Rose, a 23-year-old goth witch and one of only 5 witches in America (and 50 worldwide). Naturally enough, this ain’t Wicca we’re talking about here (and Sera is… a tad disdainful of Wicca the one time she mentions it in passing). No, this is blatant visible magic that has an immediate effect on the world. And naturally enough, it’s not made Sera’s life any better. Not really.
One of the fascinating things about HSS is that it is an episodic comic. The current storyline is self-contained, with a prologue that sums up the previous “books” in one page. Thus readers might be tempted to just jump right into the story. They won’t be missing anything significant if they do. Yet in those early works there is tremendous soul evident. Serenity Rose was born of these early, less-than-pristine works, and her heart and soul is presented here. Indeed, the initial readership for HSS emerged with these initial chapters and apparently waited a bit for cartoonist Aaron Alexovich to continue the comic.
Mind you, I don’t know if HSS suffered from hiatus or if Alexovich went to print (or even if HSS is one of a growing number of print comics that came to the web). I do know there is a 144-page print compilation available through Amazon (when it’s in stock, that is). So the first two chapters presented online in the archives are just a teaser meant to whet the appetite of potential readers who want to learn more about this young lady and the insanity (and sometimes inanity) that occurs around her. And I must admit that there’s a part of me that wishes the entire comic was available online, and that Alexovich would fully embrace what I consider the Foglio-style-of-webcartooning (using the full archives as an advertisement to encourage sales of the print compilations).
In some ways, HSS needs the rest of those archives. The first two “episodes” offer a glimpse of a young lady who, despite trying to hide from the world, has a couple of good friends and indeed, a fan-following for the comic she illustrates. In fact, one of my favorite scenes is when Sera meets a fan who doesn’t care that she’s a witch, she loves Sera for her art; Sera’s brief moment of joy at that moment is something I can relate to, and something I’m sure many cartoonists have felt at some point; comics are often a labor of love, and finding someone loves your work so much they want your autograph just makes it worthwhile.
The start of the current storyline, with Sera’s nightmare (or night terror to be more precise) hints that this storyline won’t be quite as lighthearted as the first two archived chapters were. It might seem a tad cliché that a government agency would try to attack Sera when she was young… like something out of X-Men perhaps. Then again, each day’s news is replete with examples of man’s inhumanity to man, so it may be a case of art reflecting life. In this case, it’s cliché because it’s real. The government would try to destroy (or control) witches, and undoubtedly they’d screw up as badly (if not worse) than they did when they attacked Sera seven years before the comic began.
One thing I have to applaud the cartoonist for is the feel of the comic. If you didn’t know better, you’d guess that Serenity is actually the artist, creating a life of wish-fulfillment on the small screen and something she almost wished she could be in real life. In this, Alexovich does a masterful job of bringing his character to life. Sera is vibrant and alive in a way missing in a number of comics. The character (and her friends) have soul and a life that you want to see and experience. That, combined with an imaginative story and an art style reminiscent of Jhonen Vasquez, gives us a story that captivated me and will leave audiences spellbound. Well, she is a witch, after all.