I love it when I’m surprised by plot twists, and this week’s Webcomics Wednesday pick does just that. Kristin Kemper’s Sylvania opens on a young girl in a verdant forest at daybreak, rendered in soft earth tones and glowing sunrise pinks and oranges. Warm, dappled light filters through the leaves of the trees, and the girl looses gossamer threads of magic from her fingers. She is Willow, a tree witch, and along with the rest of her witch clan, she uses magic to keep the forest strong and healthy. Typical fantasy stuff, right?
Well, not entirely. Willow and her two sisters, Rowan and Juniper, head to their clan’s weekly gathering expecting the usual stuff—swearing in a new tree witch, meeting with the elders, and so on—but they’re surprised by a visit from a pair of star witches with an interesting proposition: They want a tree witch to come to Mars to help terraform the planet.
For the elders among the tree witches, it’s an absurd proposition. How could they dream of leaving a planet full of trees they must care for? Willow, who adores her home and its surrounding woods, agrees. She takes her responsibility to the forest very seriously, so when her older sister, Juniper, volunteers for the mission, she’s aghast.
But the weeks between the star witches’ presentation and Juniper’s scheduled departure are illuminating for Willow, and she gradually comes to see the value in the Mars mission. So when Juniper gets cold feet at the last minute and decides she can’t leave Earth after all, everyone, not the least of which herself, is surprised when Willow agrees to go in her place.
Kemper’s compelling blend of sci-fi and fantasy sets up an engaging tension between tradition and the future in Willow’s decision to leave home behind, and she emphasizes it further in her well-wrought artwork. Her images of the forest and Willow’s home highlight the love the young witch feels for the place. Check out the artful attention to detail in this homey, light-dappled image of a cluttered sink.
Earthy colors, organic shapes, and natural light fill the scenes of life among the tree witches, while the star witches wear retro-futuristic clothes in bright colors—and their ship looks like something out The Jetsons. Other witch clans, the bird witches and fish witches, also have distinct visual markers: bird witches, a windswept look to match their airy wings and flying ability, and fish witches, sandy clothes accented by jewel-toned, scale-like bands.
All these disparate clans, however, always still manage to look like they’re part of the same world, since Kemper keeps those differences pretty subtle. Her cartoonish figures set against naturalistic backgrounds cultivate a vivid sense of atmosphere, and her rich backgrounds and evocative visual narrative deserve lengthy gazes.
So far in the story, Willow and her fellow Earth representatives—Kite, and bird witch, and Gourami, a fish witch—are just about to board their spacecraft to Mars. While most of the focus up to this point as been on Willow, Kemper is beginning to dip into the backstories of Kite and Gourami, which are sure to be just as compelling. This lovely genre-blending comic updates weekly, on Tuesdays.