This month, Top Cow celebrated the 20th anniversary of "Witchblade" by ending the series and releasing an "Art of..." hardcover retrospective. But even though issue #185 marks the end of the ongoing title, a new chapter in the story comes to print, bringing with it a fresh take on the world, with a fierce, endearing heroine front and center.
Created by Stjepan Sejic, "Switch" is a self-contained story featuring the artifact itself, though it's not exactly in line with "Witchblade" canon. Sejic began the series on Deviant Art several years ago, and the overwhelming fan support the story generated inspired Top Cow to bring it into its universe. In "Switch," teenage Mary is a UFO-obsessed, beanie-wearing weird kid who happens to find a strange gauntlet after demonstrating true bravery in the face of danger. Now, Mary must learn to control her new powers -- with a little help from former bearers of the blade.
CBR News spoke with Sejic on the impact his fan art has had on his career, the notably different tone of his protagonist from previous "Witchblade" wielders, and the influence his own sister's teenage years had on developing the character.
CBR News: What inspired you to reimagine "Witchblade" in this way?
Stjepan Sejic: I think it was [the animated series] "Young Justice." I loved the idea of young heroes that could be funny and epic and heartwarming. I was never a fan of grim-dark comics. I love humor and deep character development mixed with epic stories. "Witchblade" presented an infinite potential for that. All the elements were there.
Think about it! An ancient relic that can form weapons and armors on it's own? That's cool! Add to that its strange ability to be a magnet to supernatural -- cooler! Add to that the fact that it contains the spirits of the previous bearers -- and that is where it got me! In a way, "Switch" is a supernatural version of "Karate Kid." It is a story about a reluctant girl who finds skilled warrior ladies who have been bored for way too long.
All of a sudden, they are facing a new bearer of the blade that is different in one strange detail -- they can connect to her. Imbue her with their own skills, and battle experience. Seems great -- at first. Turns out, not all of them are nice.
The tone of "Switch" is so playful and relatable -- what was important to you in this reimagining?
Doing right by the characters and the story. Being a writer means negotiating the peace in an endless battle between the characters and the plot. Knowing when to let characters just, you know, be people, scratch their nose, laugh... fart. And also knowing when to rein them in and sending them on their journey as dictated by the plot.
Hopefully, I succeeded.
What kind of new readers do you see coming to the "Witchblade" world through this?
Who knows? Only time will tell. So far, my writing has attracted a very varied audience, and I must say, I hope this continues.
You address the trope of hyper-attractive women generally being at the center of these stories. But your heroine, Mary, is an average teenage girl, zits included -- and I love her. What are you hoping to achieve in your story by inverting these tropes?
Mary is, to an extent, based on my sister, her love for UFOs and her lack of confidence in her looks. This self image problem present with high school girls is usually unwarranted, and yet omnipresent. My sister once told me that she saw the ugliest person in the mirror in her teens. Turns out, nobody else saw it.
Mary is insecure, often introverted, hunching. She idolizes her best friend Rudy for being everything she isn't. While "Switch" is a story about big things, it is also a story about personal growth though interactions with these awesome previous bearers of the blade. I have big things planned. Hopefully the sales justify the run of the series to reach the culmination of these plans.
Ultimately it's not an ugly duckling kind of a story. There will be no makeover moment! we will see a young hero grow up, and be awesome.
I'm glad to hear there won't be a makeover moment -- I think Mary is perfect, just like she is. Has you sister seen the comic? What were her thoughts?
Oh, my sister is a massive fan. I had her interested with "Ravine," smitten with "Sunstone," and completely addicted to "Death Vigil." Often our conversations come down to, "Is there more? Why isn't there more?" And, "When will there be more?" She is a lover of reading, be it books or comics.
Are there other tropes from the original series that you're going to play with?
There might be a moment when Mary complains that her jeans got slightly ripped during battle --
One of the most popular pieces on Deviant Art was Mary facing off in a snark battle with Lady Pendragon -- what type of crossover characters are you the most excited to bring into the series?
So many of them. I plan on introducing the entirety of top cow universe in one form or another. For now, the two I am looking forward the most are new Lady Pendragon, and Ron Marz's character, Aaron, the Dragon prince. But there are many more. Over time, "Switch" will become a kind of a team book. As the stakes rise, Mary will need all the help that she can get, because in the background of the smaller story, a large threat is looming.
What do think the power is in bringing characters like Mary, who are average in appearance with flaws an insecurities, to the center of a comic?
It depends on what you do with the character. At the end of the day, any concept can be ruined, or made to shine. So, from a writing standpoint, what intrigues me are the basic insecurities and the exaggerated sense of self doubt dispelled over time through actions.
Mary will never grow into a Sara Pezzini -- but she doesn't need to be Sara. She is Mary. In the end, the fun part will be guiding her to finding her own strength. Going past her insecurities, at time pettiness, jealousy, cynicism. She is by no means perfect, nobody is.
That -- and having her punch a bunch of monsters through walls. 'Cause they started it!
You started this series on Deviant Art as a personal project about three years ago. How did it make the transition to print?
Ever since I started working on the concept, the Top Cow crew were open to the idea of publishing it. But it was one of the several projects being developed at the same time, and it had to wait its turn. Transition was extremely easy as I made it in the standard print format from the get go.
Did you ever anticipate that it would evolve into a full printed series?
Yes, and no. While it, like most of my projects, started off as a bunch of doodles that started talking, I didn't expect myself to do anything with it. But being a storyteller is a special kind of addiction. You have these people in your head and they want out -- in that, I can commiserate with Mary.
Once it became apparent that I had the desire to give this story life, from there it was simple. Both my wife and I have stated this before, but the reason why we stick with Top Cow is that they take our ideas seriously. I had their full support from the beginning.
What changes in the storytelling dynamic when writing for print versus a webseries?
Usually, just formatting, but in this case, not even that. I started this immediately in print-ready format, which enabled me to pace page transition in a familiar way.
Comics is a place where fan art can create career opportunities. What advice do you have for other artists on how to make their work visible or find opportunities?
Unfortunately, I can't offer anything mind-blowing beyond the same old thing we all hear, we all hate, and yet ultimately realize to be true:
Keep drawing, keep writing, keep creating, until, one day, stars line up.
It is a time-tested method of going places. A storyteller's version of putting one foot in front of the other.
However -- if there is one thing I picked up from personal experience, it is to trust the kindness of your audience. If you have the skills, they will support you. If you doubt that, consider this: we live in the age of crowd-funding. People want to support a good thing. It is up to you to offer them this good thing.
"Switch" is in stores now.