Advance Review: ‘The Witches Of Islandmagee’ Is An Evocative, Well-Researched Supernatural Rural Horror
by Olly MacNamee
The Witches of Islandmagee is a well-researched rural horror set in the early 18th century in rural Ireland. A witch trial that is recounted as though real, with supernatural solicitings and evocative art that transports the readers to a darker time in Irish, and British, history.
Witches and witchcraft have always been a fertile ground for fiction, with much of what has come before based somewhat on fact. And so it is with a new, slim graphic novel, The Witches of Islandmagee by Victoria McCollum, David Campbell and Andrew Sneddon. Based on Sneddon’s Possessed by the Devil: the Real History of the Islandmagee Witches, this is a work of fiction but based on actual witch trails of the early 18th century. A tale of witchcraft in rural Ireland, but embellished to suggest the supernatural element of this real-life tale were tangible.
The story of a rural community haunted by ghostly witches, resulting in death and a hastily organised trial that, like so many targeting the vulnerable women of the time, leads to tragic, easily avoidable deaths. The whole affair is one woeful tragedy after another with no-one really winning. And rendered in a way that doesn’t place judgment on anyone, not even the accuser, Mary Dunbar. Who, surely, in real life was responsible for the execution of several women as a result of her beliefs? Beliefs fuelled by patriarchal community leaders and law-makers. The reader, as a result, is left to either pass judgment themselves, or simply read this sad story as a work of fictional horror. But, with a forewarn by the creators amping up the historical source this comic is based upon, I found it hard to detach myself from the historical facts to not feel some slight animosity towards Mary. Even though, in context, this could just as well be read as another example of man privilege working its worked way on the world.
It’s a compact story wonderfully illustrated by David Campbell, who judiciously limits his colours to a palette awash with fifty shades of grey and more, with the result being a dark, foreboding, gothic tone that evokes the past in its well thought out mise-en-scène. Period details, including the architecture of the day, all work in unity to produce a creepy, rural horror that is well realised and supernaturally ethereal in parts.
The Witches of Islandmagee is launching this Saturday 25th February 2023 at Forbidden Planet International, Belfast, where you can meet the while team and get your copy signed.