Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore and you should read. The latest: Mamo, available now from BOOM! Box, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.
by Arpad Okay. Magic? Horror? That’s easy. People stumble into supernatural trouble all the time. What’s tough is being a witch. Yeah, there’s magic and there’s horror, though most of that is just nature. Everything ends, returns to the earth, and rises again in another form. Being a witch means following the rules. Mamo is a witch story. About daughters, about cycles and curses. Our bodies and lives and what we do with them. Promises. Sas Milledge’s debut for BOOM! Box brings new life to classic ideas, contains two subgenres for every genre, and generally overflows with ambition. Bathed in shadows. Full of heart.
Milledge has written a perfect rotten romance. Getting into a fight with not! Your! Crush! And then riding off in a state to prove your point, only you did it on their bicycle. When star-crossed lovers means their horns are constantly locked. Energy: a displeasure in each other’s company that is so intense, if they stop butting heads they’re definitely going to be smashing lips. Cary Grant is a young woman with a bike, which I guess makes Rosalind Russell a witch—black cat and everything—agency with attitude. Their names are Jo Manalo, from the town of Haresden, and Orla O’Reilly, hedge witch, granddaughter of Mamo.
Like any great romantic comedy, there are lots of little flashes and awkward blushes, but there’s no time to shoot a shot amongst all the hijinx. Orla is reluctant to return to the home she left behind but Jo won’t take no for an answer, and for good reason; Haresden is a mess of weird magic upsetting the rhythm of life. Investigating what’s gone twisted and strange in the woods in Mamo is more than following a trail of breadcrumbs. Each piece of the puzzle is a test itself, setting the ghosts of the past free. Jo and Orla are fixing what’s broken. Mending the cord means following it back to its source and finding themselves all sewn up into each other.
The magic has fun, complex rules. Magic is emotion. It’s witchy because it’s focused on natural things, but it’s also witchy because it is about promises binding and severe. One girl, the hierophant, is part of a family line where magic is passed down. Her struggles are rooted in her family, in her identity conflicting with expectations. The other girl, strength, is connected to her family, her home. It’s what she’s defending, what she’s attempting to use magic to restore. The strengths she has complement the strength of the witch.
They certainly don’t act like they work together. The begrudging granddaughter is dragged back by a girl who can’t run away. Sparks. Magic problems all around the map. It’s the perfect screwball comedy dynamic: a girl who knows nothing about how magic works and is incredibly curious as to all of the complicated specifics and details and witch stuff she (and the reader) is in the dark about, and a witch who absolutely deplores explaining things.
Milledge is full of good ideas. The magic is all about intention and agriculture, putting in the work, and so the detective story often pauses for moments of simplicity and reflection, like a scene from Only Yesterday. I loved the currawongs, an independent nation of birds caught up in the local drama. Talking to them, casually owning a debt from their lord, great stuff.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is another book that came out this year, one that handled magic and its weird rules with just as much joy and intellectualism (and it has talking birds). Though both Mamo and Laila Starr look like 2022, their writing reminds me of classic 90s Bond-wave Vertigo Comics. They are an evolution of sophisticated suspense. There’s comedy from creepiness, a flock of sheep fixated on a magic bone planted in a field. The repulsive ghost moths: the idea of some animal or natural object touching you and turning into a painful quasi-liquid that defies physics and starts to drown you in itself, it really gets under my skin, I can’t get enough of it. Illustration is also a great medium for that kind of classic horror movie concept. Undefinable aura of bad energy that becomes malignant spectral muck? Comics are an ideal place to showcase it. To drown someone in ink.
Mamo is dark, though visually it’s quite light. Milledge draws with exceptionally thin lines. Wispy. You can feel the amount of space on the page, with characters set down solid, but so slight. Milledge uses dynamic staging, wide panel close shots, almost like a Western. Or a spy film, since they’re detectives, and this is the woods, not the badlands. On the other hand, the witch is the epitome of the rider in black (though Orla dresses way more Indiana Jones). The colors in the book are as soft a touch as the contour work, light as autumn in the orchard before the sun sets, and full of shadows. Each scene in Mamo is shot, each scene is lit, with Milledge relishing the role of director of photography. Muted colors that reach bright heights and shadows literally everywhere, but none of them fully saturated with darkness? Also pretty Western.
I would file this one under mystery, though. Witchy junior detectives! With emo sparks. Which also means twists. Intellectually engaging you, not to mislead you, but because when the reader is fascinated they’re easier to catch off guard. Tying emotion into magic means that the big magic payoff at the end is a big emotional payoff as well. Orla’s reasons for trying to put Haresen in her past are as earnest and deep as Jo’s reasons for setting down roots. A scary story about an intergenerational witch’s curse! A letter-perfect romantic comedy! It’s a genre crusher! That looks like contemporary YA. Or maybe it looks like an old Speilberg movie, riding bicycles and tucking your t-shirt into your pants and cool dad’s big glasses. It’s a powerful force that makes opposites attract. For Orla and Jo, and Milledge, it’s as magic as the magic. Something new comes from something familiar. As long as I am alive, I hope to find wonder in the unmatchable strength of a promise that’s kept. For now, here’s how.
BOOM! Box / BOOM! Studios / $14.99
Written and illustrated by Sas Milledge.
Mamo issues #1-4 are available now. Issue #5 drops November 10. The Mamo softcover collection hits comic shops April 13. For purchasing information, click this.
Check out this 5-page preview of Mamo #1, courtesy of BOOM! Studios:
More Required Reading: