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.
Magic in this webcomic is based off memorization of summoning words and circles as well as human emotion. See, wizards can summon a spirit of emotion to do things like cause trains to run faster by imbuing the tracks with impatience. If a wizard messes up their spell, they create a "buggerup" (the common term) or a "malfom" (the educated term), a spirit who is basically a personfication of an emotion. As the seven deadly sins are emotions, they exist in this universe...
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 is frequently known by "Mal" and 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/Mal 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.
Story six, "Find the Lady," brings the Barber clan together for a rousing tale of Grandpa Henry and Grandma Isabelle's early exploits, straight from the retired adventurers themselves.
Story seven, "Curtain Call," brings the two main groups of protagonists together as the growing threat of the Deadlies (AKA seven deadly sins) is about to break out into full-fledged magical disaster.
Story eight, "Hangman's Knot", follows a new cast of characters. A young man named Vincent "Knotty" Knott is trying to prove that student wizard Will Sharpe did not commit the crime he is going to be hanged for in the morning. Knott's friend Eliza, who loves getting to the bottom of a good mystery, gets caught up in helping.
Story nine, "Witch Hunt", brings together the new and old characters as the repercussions of the end of story seven are resolved.
A new story has begun in January 2020.
The author summarizes it thus:
"Widdershins is an adventure/comedy comic set in 1830s England, with a dash of magic. Its 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. Verity could also count, even though she favors gadgets over direct fight.
- Amplifier Artifact: Someplace called the "Anchor" is located in Widdershins, and proximity boosts a wizard's abilities. Some people with magical talent never even know they have any until they arrive in the city.
- Asexuality: Jack O'Malley is asexual, though it isn't a word he'd know. As Wolfe put it once, "Mal has never been interested in what that particular sin [Lust] has to offer."
- Aura Vision: Jack O'Malley can see "the spirits that form magic and emotion".
- Badass Beard: Edmund Barber has a beard worthy of a Civil War general, which some readers (and Florrie in-universe) have jokingly referred to as "Eddie's beard" and a background character in its own right.
- 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. A powerful spirit taunts Florrie with a cryptic throwaway reference to their grandmother, which it then refuses to explain.
- Then there's Grandma Isabelle's side of the family, which does eventually get covered. Isabelle herself is a powerful wizard, with numerous wizard ancestors... including the last known Witch of Widdershins.
- 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/Mal rescues Ben, Wolfe, and Nicola with a gang of buggerups, and gets to look quite justifiably smug for the rest of the story.
- Big Sister Instinct: The Barber Sisters may not show it much, but in situations like Nora admitting to being trapped by Gluttony with the other victims of the hotel she worked at, the other sisters drop their differences and immediately start to worry for her.
- Blessed with Suck: O'Malley'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.
- It's later revealed that some witches can sense spirits by other means (scent and sound, at least) but the other witches that we've met think sight must be a particularly rough way to do it.
- Book Dumb: O'Malley cannot read or write.
- Bounty Hunter: Harriet's and Vee's occupation. Sidney joins Harry eventually.
- Broke Episode: Sidney's first story, and the set-up for Wolfe and O'Malley's first tale as well - treading into Perpetual Poverty for them later on as being early-Victorian Ghostbusters does not pay very well.
- Chekhov's Gun: Realizing that her actions are necessary, Alex gives her fried smartphone to Nora after she learns Nora is Harriet Barber's sister, with specific instructions to give it to Harry when she will need it in Nora's future.
- Clingy MacGuffin: The Mark of Thieves. Also turns out to be a Living MacGuffin, due to the spirit of Greed that dwells within it.
- Color Blind Confusion: O'Malley sees spirits in color, but the rest of the world in shades of grey. So he has no reference point for which words go with which colors, and when they go through a power-swap storyline he has to use descriptions like "it's the same color as that thing" instead of "it's green."
- 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.
- Decoy Damsel: Lei pretends to go missing and be kidnapped, but she's actually the villain of the third story.
- Defrosting Ice Queen:
- Early-Bird Cameo: Harry and Sid meet Jack/Mal and Wolfe in chapter 1, who take center stage in chapter 2.
- Easily Forgiven: Nicola questions her grandparents' decision to invite two of Luxuria's former gang to their wedding, pointing out that Superbia threw a knife at him. Isabelle defends (?) this by saying several other of Henry's guests had tried to kill him.
- Eldritch Location: Within the Anchor, powerful emotions can accidentally summon spirits uncontrolled. There are two other Anchors in different places around the world as well, but the Widdershins one is most readily accessible and so gets the most attention.
- 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.
- The Deadly Sins are naturally prone to this trope:
- Envy displays total contempt for Wolfe's concern about its servant. Later, it can't realise that Dominik really has made his HeelFace Turn and cares about Wolfe until that causes its downfall.Envy: All that concern and caring for a worthless human like this. If I could be sick, I would!
- Greed reacts at Sidney's refusing other people's money and running away with "But... WHY?" He replies, "I'd explain, but I don't think you'd understand!" Greed agrees, "Perhaps I would not."
- Luxuria describes humans as "utterly ridiculous", "a mass of chaotic emotions". It calls human relationships the worst part of that, claims to know nothing about love, and sees it only as a weakness for it to exploit. So it becomes a big surprise for it to be defeated by the Power of Friendship.Luxuria: I don't understand! I don't understand!Mal: Nah... ye couldn't.
- Envy displays total contempt for Wolfe's concern about its servant. Later, it can't realise that Dominik really has made his HeelFace Turn and cares about Wolfe until that causes its downfall.
- 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.
- Flanderization: Invoked by Luxuria, who spends years manipulating his followers to make their personalities dominated by a single strong emotion. He even complains about one follower being motivated by an emotion other than what he picked out, regarding it as a distraction.
- 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.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: the ensemble in charge of weakening the deadlies in the chapter "Curtain Call" - Wolfe (phlegmatic), Verity (sanguine), Ben (choleric), Sidney (melancholic).
- It actually mirrors which ones were most affected by which deadly sins quite well: wrath was able to get to the extrovert ones (Verity and Ben), sloth got the introvert ones (Wolfe and Sidney), envy influenced the emotionally unstable ones (Sidney and Ben) the most, while pride influenced the emotionally stable (read: most sure of themselves) ones the most (Wolfe and Verity). The other three sins (gluttony, greed, lust, all related to the "basic desires" of humans) did not have substantially different effects on the four.
- Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: A few pages between all of the stories. The author describes the internet as "comfortingly predictable" after Jack/Mal and Wolfe field a question about whether they're a couple, which Wolfe is a touch discomfited by and Jack/Mal finds amusing.
- A Friend in Need: O'Malley rescuing Thackerey
- Gambling Brawl: Jack O'Malley and Heinrich Wolfe get arrested when Jack/Mal is accused of cheating in a card game, gets punched, and has Wolfe come to his defense. After the fact, Jack/Mal argues that having innate Aura Vision that reveals people's emotions shouldn't count as cheating, but the police aren't convinced.
- 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 didn't much like Sidney at first because of all the magic she can smell on him, as a wizard. She later becomes used to his presence.
- Gotta Catch Them All: The plot of book seven. The citizens have to catch all the Deadlies.
- Heel Realization: Dominik, after spending three 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 three 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/Mal and Wolfe. Except that Mal is asexual.
- Hidden Depths: Plenty of people. To choose one, Ms. Invidia. She's stated to be sheltered (former) French royalty, and she looks waifish, but she's the one that Mr. Luxuria chooses to search after Henry Barber.
- 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. About his only flaw is that hes weak to a pretty face.
- 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/Mal 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 of Thieves.
- Magicians Are Wizards: Sidney Malik fails a job interview because he's both. Otherwise, they are different things.
- Magic Versus Science: Magic and science aren't completely incompatible, but something about high local magic causes electronics to screw up violently. It is not until the 2030s in the comic universe that the inside of a building can be shielded from magic.
- Magitek: Spirits end up imbued into a lot of things, including the train tracks which allow steam engines to run much 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 (circling against the movement of the sun: anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere) 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 strangely - and this is the most magically significant city in England, where things often do go rather strangely.
- 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 O'Malley" 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/Mal and Ben in chapter 5. Ben temporarily gets stuck with Jack's spirit vision, and notices Jack/Mal has no aura. He asks if that's why Jack/Mal hates mirrors, but Jack/Mal 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.
- Ordered Apology: When Dominik Voss wants to join the heroes to fight Envy, Benjamin Thackerey isn't eager about that. Wolfe asks Dominik what he has to say to Ben, but he mutters that he wasn't even aiming to him. Then Wolfe elbows him in the side, and he tells Ben he is very sorry.
- 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-Cant-Remember-It-All-Doesnt-Matter."
- Paranormal Gambling Advantage: Jack O'Malley has the unique power to see spirits, including people's emotional auras, which he exploits in card games. This starts a Bar Brawl in Widdershins, where people are familiar enough with magic to guess that something is amiss.Officer Barber: So you cheat at cards for a living.Jack: S'not cheating, it's using a natural advantage, isn't it?
- Personality Powers: Spirits all over, as they are made of a particular emotion and can thus do things conceptually related to that - it's the entire basis of imbuing things to make magic items. Wizards themselves can also lean on this, using the strength of their own emotions (or of someone else to hand) to act as the offering necessary to call a spirit, and thus more readily imbue things with that spirit. This can be extremely dangerous, especially with the Deadlies, as it means you're very wrapped up in a feeling that the spirit would obviously be rather adept at manipulating.
- Pick a Card: Sidney uses it on the street to make money.
- Plain Palate: O'Malley only eats for sustenance, not enjoyment, as he's colour-blind and food looks bad to him.
- 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/Mal 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 HeelFace Turn, Envy sends all the abilities back to their original owners as punishment.
- Proud Peacock: The Spirit of Pride manifests as a quadrupedal magenta peacock when it's summoned into the material world. Insulting its plumage is, naturally, its Berserk Button.
- 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 like 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 (although the imbued tracks allows a steam engine to be as fast as a modern electric locomotive).
- 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. Book Seven is catching them all.
- Shipper on Deck: Florrie ships Sidney and Harriet. Nora Fenton also gets in on it after being informed by Florrie, and Sidney's friend Tim Chiang does so after meeting Harry for the first time.
- Frankly, everyone except Harry and Sydney themselves seems to be in on the plot to get them together.
- 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.
- Also Alexa herself is famed in story.
- Something Only They Would Say: While working in her shop back to the door, Eliza didn't recognize Vincent (despite hearing his voice) until he corrected her spelling.
- Splash of Color: Jack/Mal doesn't see color, save for when he's looking at a spirit/aura.
- Squishy Wizard: Neither Sidney nor Ben is much for a fight, and Jack/Mal is surprised at the idea of wizards getting into brawls.
- Summon Magic: All magic is based on summoning the spirits of various emotions and/or vices to perform specific feats. For example, Impatience is used to enchant train tracks to allow trains to go faster, hunger is used to make food appear more attractive, and so on.
- The summons has to be performed in a magic circle, with a suitable conduit - a thing somehow connected to the spirit - to call it, and an offering to gain its service. Ritual words are spoken in Latin for the summons, but further negotiations can be in any language. If the summons is screwed up when too far along, the spirit may end up conjured in a twisted, lesser form of itself, which can then get loose even if the summoner didn't want to set them free.
- Supernatural Sensitivity: Jack/Mal 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.
- Thieving Magpie: Sidney's unfortunate stealing spirit takes the form of a magpie.
- Too Dumb to Live: Attacking a man dismissing a spirit — and then not being careful talking to it. Though it later turns out Fairbairn isn't really dead.
- Truth in Television: Despite being son of the Baron of Widdershins, Henry speaks with a broad Yorkshire accent. This is historically bang on - at the time, aristocrats tended to speak with the accent of the county they lived in. It wasn't until quite a bit later that they started using Received Pronunciation.
- 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.
- Whatevermancy: Jack/Mal refers to the wizard who tried to imbue bread with the spirit of hunger as a "breadmancer", and Ben as a "bureaucramancer".
- Wicked Witch: Averted. Witches are considered little more than old legends and scary stories, reputed to have been essentially more powerful wizards who were able to read minds and steal souls. But nobody has seen any for centuries. It turns out they're bound to the Anchors in some fashion and the last one for Widdershins was the current Barber generation's several-times-great-grandmother on Isabelle's side, way back in the 1400s.
- It's strongly implied, from how Isabelle describes witches (they have Aura Vision), that Jack O'Malley is one. Later confirmed.