Review: Warpaint (Witchworld Limited)

Collected into a new edition, the 4 issues of Kev Sherry’s Warpaint reads like a classic Stephen King coming-of-age story or a John Hughes brat pack movie, but set in the modern day. It focuses on the trials ands tribulations of a group of young school girls who come into conflict with the school bully and an out of touch teacher and decide to make their point in a most unlikely manner.

Publisher: Witchworld Limited
Writer: Kev Sherry
Artist: Katia Vecchio
Price: £5.49 from ComiXology

Warpaint uses that classic coming-of-age structure of a young adult looking back on a childhood event and seeing how it has shaped their adult life (and ultimately using it as inspiration for their present day woes). Sophie is a model, with all the trappings that come with that lifestyle. However when she gets an email from former school friend Michelle, telling her about the death of their friend Selene, it sees Sophie begin to think back on a specific event in her young life.

Selene was a forthright firebrand, who storms out of classes as a result of the perceived misogyny of her teacher. She is also the touch paper which sees the girls tormented by school bully Connor Forsey. But while Selene may be this confident character at school, she is also a teen struggling for identity, living with her strict grandparents while her idealistic mother is out protesting around the country (and even the world). As Selene tries to be like her passionate mother, she drags her friends along with her, and attempts to install them with the same passionate idealism. She also draws them into a strange, almost fantasy world, based around pagan supernatural rituals, which culminates in them painting their face with their own menstrual blood in a bonding ritual which they ultimately use as the focus for their protests against the oppressive male bullies and teachers.

Writer Kev Sherry and artist Katia Vecchio have created a really potent and thought provoking read with Warpaint. While the context of a high school and the subject of a group of young friends may be all too familiar (it feels very much like a gender flipped and Anglicized Stand by Me for example, with hints of Carrie thrown in for good measure with all that blood) the characterisation and layers of depth which are applied to the story make this into a really compelling and unconventional read.

As with all great coming of ages stories, it is built around the actions of Selene: that kind of idealistic best friend you wish you had growing up, but who you are also a little bit terrified of once they cross the line and take things that step too far. While the supporting cast of friends are a little light on depth compared to the complex Selene, the dialogue fizzes around every page and all the characters feel and speak in a very believable and identifiable manner.

Selene’s nemesis, bully Connor Forsey is also equally fleshed out. While he could simply be another carbon copy bully, his relationship with his more powerful gangster brothers and the fear which teachers have for him and them, make Selene’s action even more daring and thrilling – and potentially dangerous for all involved. The way the story is occasionally told through high school Chinese whispers helps build both characters up in each other’s eyes while also feeling like an instantly familiar world for anyone who remembers the complexities of high school life.

Sherry’s story in Warpaint is a real page turner, and is packed full of unforgettable moments – especially those around the ‘warpaint’ concept – which is handled very well, for what could be quite a controversial part of the story. While it may be something which puts some readers off, (especially males) it shouldn’t, not only because that goes against the pro-feminist message which the story is trying to tell. But also because it is not the be all and end all of the story.

Visually, the book looks great with Vecchio giving it a very polished anime infused style that reminded us of Yishan Lee’s work on Paradox Girl. While some of the more pedestrian school room scenes feel a bit ragged in places, Vecchio really steps up her game for the fantastical elements that live in the girls’ imaginations, and as such it has a really rich and diverse style to it. All of which helps prevent it from being yet another high school coming of age indie comic.

Warpaint is a compelling and through provoking read, that challenges your pre-conceptions while ultimately telling a really important tale about finding yourself, and standing up for yourself as a young woman.