Webcomic: Widdershins

Widdershins is a webcomic by Kate Ashwin, the artist behind the now completed webcomic Darken. Many important events take place or have their origin in the eponymous city of Widdershins, where magic is easier to perform than anywhere else.

The first story, "Sleight of Hand," follows Sidney Malik, a failed magician and wizard who is cursed with a kind of magical kleptomania which results in his expulsion from university. While struggling to find a job, he ends up caught up in professional artefact-hunter Harriet ("Harry") Barber's latest quest: finding the Mark of Thieves.

The second story, "No Rest for the Wicked," deals with Jack O'Malley (who can see spirits) and his friend Heinrich Wolfe. To avoid jail, they end up working for the city helping civil servant and wizard Ben Thackery in locating and banishing malforms, or failed summonings.

The third story, "Vanishing Act," returns to Sidney and Harry as they investigate the disappearance of an old friend of Sidney's, and run afoul of someone from Harry's history as well.

The fourth story, "Piece of Cake," follows Alexa King, a baker from the present day who visits the Gula Hotel in Widdershins for a baking competition and runs afoul of some old magic.

The fifth story, "Green-Eyed Monster", shows us how Jack and Wolfe first met, and introduces Wolfe's old friend in the army, with whom he had a falling out in the same events that brought him and Jack together.

Other stories are forthcoming.

The author summarizes it thus:

"Widdershins is an adventure/comedy comic set in 1830s England, with a dash of magic. Itís made up of short stories, some of which will be self contained, others not so much.."

This webcomic contains example of

  • Action Girl: Harry and Nicola would probably (definitely) resent being called "girl," though.
  • Amplifier Artifact/Eldritch Location: Something/someplace called the "Anchor" is located in Widdershins, and it boosts a wizard's abilities. Some people with magical talent never even know they have any until they arrive in the city. Within the Anchor itself, powerful emotions can accidentally summon spirits uncontrolled. There are other Anchors in different places around the world as well.
  • Aura Vision: Jack O'Malley can see "the spirits that form magic and emotion".
  • Badass Family: It seems to run in the Barber family. Grandpa Henry was a famous adventurer, Harry is following in his footsteps, and Harry's sister Nicola is a formidable police officer. Florrie isn't particularly badass but she is quite sharp (though she doesn't much act like it most of the time). Nora, a maid at the Gula Hotel, is rather meek in comparison to the rest of the family but a spirit of Courage conjured from her is mighty enough to stand up to a Deadly. There's still a Barber brother unaccounted for, and a powerful spirit taunts Florrie with a cryptic throwaway reference to their grandmother, which it then refuses to explain.
  • Badass Normal: Most major characters who aren't wizards, but notably Alexa King who uses a powder explosion to break into Gluttony's locked dining room and then stares it down to give others time to conjure another spirit to fight it.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Jack rescues Ben, Wolfe, and Nicola with a gang of buggerups, and gets to look quite justifiably smug for the rest of the story.
  • Blessed with Suck: Jack's magical sight causes severe headaches around wizards and large crowds. He avoids looking at his own reflection because he has no aura at all himself. Finally, he's almost completely color-blind, as auras and spirits are the only things he sees in color. Someone once asked through the Fourth Wall Mail Slot about preferred food, but to him most stuff looks...unpalatable.
    • O'Malley is so color-blind he doesn't even know what the various colors are named; Wolfe has to explain them after he's temporarily de-powered. He decides he rather likes blue.
  • Book Dumb: Jack cannot read or write.
  • Broke Episode: Malik's first story.
  • Chekov's Gun: Alex gives her cell phone to Nora after she learns Nora is Harriet Barber's sister, with specific instructions to give it to Harry.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The Mark of Thieves.
    • Also turns out to be a Living MacGuffin, due to the spirit of Greed that dwells within it.
  • Conversational Troping: Harry's grandfather Henry Barber was famous, and Sidney is a fan of the cheap novels about his adventures. Sidney occasionally discusses how he expected the situation to go if they were in one of the novels.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Sidney's kleptomania curse lets him steal magical artefacts that can normally only be taken when the owner is dead.
  • Cute but Cacophonic: The spirit of hunger.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Thomas Macavity supposedly has one, not that he'd tell you about it. It's too cliched, even for him.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Harry is slowly going through this, thanks to Sidney. It's not romantic (yet), although if Florrie has her way...
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Harry and Sid meet Jack and Wolfe in chapter 1, who take center stage in chapter 2.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Dominik attempts to make Wolfe envious of his success. Wolfe simply congratulates him and wishes him well. Unusually, He realizes that this trope just happened, and it triggers his Heel Realization.
  • Fauxreigner: Part of Tim Chiang's act as a stage magician. He grew up in England with Sidney.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: A rather contained version in the Gula Hotel. All of the cooks have been abducted from various time periods after the 1830s, notably from the 1920s, 1950s, present-day, and the 2030s.
  • Foreshadowing: Plenty within and between chapters. Usually there's something in each chapter - a poster, a newspaper article, an overheard conversation - that helps set up a plot detail or three for the next one, such as second-chapter posters for Tim Chiang's magic show seen in the third chapter.
  • Fourth Wall Mail Slot: A few pages between stories two and three, four and five, and five and six. The author describes the internet as "comfortingly predictable" after Jack and Wolfe field a question about whether they're a couple, which Wolfe is a touch discomfited by and Jack finds amusing.
  • A Friend in Need: O'Malley rescuing Thackerey
  • Gadgeteer Genius/Wrench Wench: Verity ("Vee") Cunningham and Lei Feng both. Lei's dabbling in Magitek leans her closer to the "Gadgeteer Genius" end of the spectrum, but Vee is no slouch either.
  • Gentleman Thief: Thomas Macavity. Sidney plays up the image at one point.
  • Glamour Failure: Dogs are sensitive to the presence of magic, and some like Harry's dog Gren can be trained to sniff out and track magic a little like a drug-sniffing dog. Gren doesn't much like Sidney because of all the magic she can smell on him, as a wizard.
  • Heel Realization: Dominik, after spending 3 years skill-stealing his way to success, arrives in Widdershins and attempts to rub it in Wolfe's face. Wolfe... is Wolfe. Dominik was so sure Wolfe would become bitter and envious, just as he was 3 years ago, but seeing Wolfe not react triggered his Heel Realization.
  • Heroes Want Redheads Wolfe has a thing for them, according to Jack.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Running into a burning building to deal with a summoned spirit?
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jack and Wolfe.
  • Impossible Thief: Sidney, not that he wants to be.
  • Inconvenient Summons: All summoned spirits view being summoned to be like this. As one puts it, our world is loud and wrong to them, so if a spirit is summoned and it gets loose, it goes on a sort of rampage, since it is now trapped in a world that makes absolutely no sense to it. It would be the equivalent of a human suddenly finding himself suddenly and irrevocably summoned to Cthulhu's house without any warning or explanation. Who wouldn't go a little crazy from that?
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Wolfe practically bleeds serenity, to the extent that Mal and Ben can draw off him to bind and banish the spirit of Wrath, and he doesn't even notice.
  • Insistent Terminology: Technically they are called 'Malforms,' but most people call them Buggerups.
    • "Buggerups", because you "buggered up", or more simply, messed up, the spell.
  • Insufferable Genius: Ben seems to be either this or a Small Name, Big Ego. His Third Class Degree would seem to point to the latter, but that could be blamed on the fact that he has No Social Skills until we see what he can do.
    • Definitely the lack of social skills. He's more The Spock in a discipline that requires a careful balance on the Romanticism Versus Enlightenment scale, as a Q&A bonus page reveals. He just lacks a personable "spark" to which spirits respond well, even though he knows the technical side of magic quite well. He gets better later on, especially with Mal, after accidentally getting saddled with Mal's spirit vision. It turns out the two can work well together.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jack. Others have described Wolfe as his conscience and the only good thing that comes with him, but he's actually very loyal (to Wolfe, if no one else) and he will dive into danger despite protesting all the way.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Ethan Booth, a chef at the Gula Hotel. He starts with insults, continues with insults, and so far looks like he may as well end with insults. Even his character profile is simply "What a jerk." A large part of his cranky attitude turns out to be because the Gula snatched him up right after a big fight with his husband, and he's understandably upset over everything being left like that - and fearing whether he can make amends if they ever escape back to their own times. Even taking that into account, though... yeah, still a jerk.
  • Lethal Chef: There's a reason Wolfe does most of the cooking for the pair. Jack doesn't even understand you're supposed to crack eggs before putting them in the frying pan (and that clouds of black smoke from same are not a good sign).
  • MacGuffin: Harry's job is pretty much to hunt down and secure (or destroy) MacGuffins like the Mark.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Malik loses one job because he's both.
  • Magic Versus Science: Magic and science aren't completely incompatible, but something about high local magic causes electronics to screw up violently.
  • Magitek: Spirits end up imbued into a lot of things, including the trains to make them run faster. Lei is particularly talented at crafting amazing machines, though she can only imbue them within Widdershins itself because her magical talent is very limited.
  • Master Poisoner: The Shaw sisters, who claim not to work lethally. They avert some tropes like Universal Poison, noting that they need to carefully calculate the substance and dosage to suit the target (and might even be able to work on spirits), and hide it in strong drinks because there is no Perfect Poison... but still achieve Instant Sedation, because they're just that good.
  • Meaningful Name: One of the meanings of Malik is "king," which is entirely appropriate considering Sidney is saddled with the Mark.
    • The city of Widdershins. The name is a direction (counterclockwise) which has certain important meanings in various religious and magical rites in the real world (mostly in that different groups assign different meanings to which direction you go in a ritual circle), but it also has a colloquial meaning about things going "backwards" or strange - and this is the most magically significant city in England, where things often do go rather strange.
    • Potentially Jack O'Malley, better known as Mal, who is forced to deal with Malforms (better known as Buggerups) and for whom the malforms seem to feel some kind of kinship or admiring regard, calling him "the omalley" and "the one that sees." He's also the "bad" (mal) one of the pair with Wolfe.
    • The Gula Hotel. Gula is the Latin term for Gluttony, by which the hotel is currently haunted/possessed.
    • Possibly Alexa's last name of King. Her name isn't the spoiler, but the possible connection is - it's not unheard-of for people with "foreign-sounding" names to Anglicize them in English-speaking countries, especially during times of political tension, and so she could be descended from Sidney.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Discussed by Jack and Ben in chapter 5. Ben temporarily gets stuck with Jack's spirit vision, and notices Jack has no aura. He asks if that's why Jack hates mirrors, but Jack cuts him off and changes the subject.
  • Newspaper-Thin Disguise: Oh Thomas, the least you could do is make sure the paper isn't upside down.
  • Nice Guy: Wolfe. When he gets kidnapped after nosing around too much, what does he do? He gives the kidnapper words of encouragement and inspires him to pursue his dreams. As one character puts it, the only good thing that comes along with O'Malley is Wolfe.
  • Non-Action Guy: Sidney isn't much for a fight.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Wrath's outlines and coloring are rougher than the other characters, making him stand out even among the other spirits.
  • The Nose Knows: Harriet uses a dog.
  • Our Spirits Are Different: Spirits are embodiments of various emotions and vices. Weaker ones seem largely unintelligent, but to them Earth is a mad, alien world that they can barely comprehend so they're usually busy freaking out.
  • Overly Long Name: Lancelot Sidney Arthur Oliver Malik. He prefers Sidney. (His parents wanted a really English name.) Macavity later lampshades it with, "Mr Long-Name-Canít-Remember-It-All-Doesnít-Matter."
  • Pick a Card: Malik uses it on the street to make money.
  • The Pollyanna: Rosie remains cheerful and upbeat despite being abducted and enslaved to cook every day. The only thing that gets to her is finding out that the book she wrote, ABCs of Home Cooking, ends up being a huge success, and a copy ended up in the hands of her new time-displaced friend Alexa King, after being passed down the family for generations. She's moved to tears.
  • Power Incontinence: Jack can't turn his power off, he gets overwhelmed in areas with lots of people, has headaches when he looks at wizards, and can't even look in a mirror in case he sees his own reflected lack of a spirit.
    • Also Sidney, who cannot turn off his magical ability for acquiring other peoples' property.
  • Power Parasite: Dominik becomes this via a Deal with the Devil with Envy. All he has to do is look someone in the eye, and he can take any of their abilities, such as the ability to speak or read a language, of play a musical instrument. When he does his Heel-Face Turn, Envy sends all the abilities back to their original owners as punishment.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Not entirely, but we get a view of the present day at the beginning of the fourth story and what we see looks very alike the real world, with most magical weirdness confined to Widdershins. Justified, as magic is strongest around the Anchors, and the ability to perform falls off sharply elsewhere for all but gifted wizards. It's hard to build a Magitek Revolution out of a small handful of cities scattered around the globe, and it's unreliable enough to be unattractive. Magic and Tech apparently don't coexist well in the Widdershins universe, as electronics don't work in the city and the train to Widdershins is pulled by a steam engine even in the 21st century.
  • Self-Deprecation: The creator makes fun of (at least a subplot of) her previous comic, Darken, with the play Violet and Leon - as Wolfe describes it, "Lost love, tragedy, wars, and such. Predictable. Not so good."
  • Seven Deadly Sins: "The Deadlies" make for some very powerful spirits. Each story also features one as the primary theme, with a spirit of such appearing at some point in the plot. And going free in the havoc surrounding the story's climax, instead of getting safely unsummoned.
  • Shipper on Deck: Florrie ships Sidney and Harriet.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Harry is famous enough in the 21st century that Alexa immediately makes the connection when she learns Nora's maiden name is Barber and her sister's name is Harriet.
  • Squishy Wizard: Neither Sidney nor Ben is much for a fight, and Jack is surprised at the idea of wizards getting into brawls.
  • Summon Magic: All magic appears to be based on this concept, summoning the spirits of various emotions and/or vices to perform specific feats. For example, Impatience is used to enchant a train to go faster, hunger is used to make food appear more attractive, etc etc.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Jack can see and understand spirits that are otherwise invisible, as well as people's auras. Wizards and large crowds give him screaming headaches.
  • Supreme Chef: Alexa and all the other cooks at the Gula Hotel. They aren't Omnidisciplinary Cooks, though - Alexa is a supreme pastry chef, while the Shaw sisters are supreme bartenders. Everyone has their own specialty.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Attacking a man dismissing a spirit — and then not being careful talking to it.
  • Verbal Tic: Harry's little "hrm" noise whenever she's annoyed or thinking something through (or thinking through something annoying).
  • V Sign: Jack isn't too fond of wizards.