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The Sandman Presents: Thessaly - Witch for Hire
Words by Bill Willingham - Art by Shawn McManus - Published by DC Comics (US), Titan Books (UK) - First published 2005 - Originally published as The Sandman Presents: Thessaly - Witch for Hire 1-4
With Neil Gaiman now pretty slow on further developing the characters he created for his classic series The Sandman (or any other comics for that matter), Vertigo, the non-superhero arm of DC Comics, has pretty much passed the mantle on to Bill Willingham. And when it comes down to it, if he can produce the kind of work based on Gaiman's characters that's on offer in this graphic novel, it's a pretty good second choice.
Thessaly is an unlikely witch: a young, bookish, innocent-looking exterior hides the fact that she's unaccountably old, and there's not a broomstick or pointy hat in sight. There are a few frogs, but they're not really Thessaly's fault.
Readers of Gaiman's The Sandman will, of course, remember her as a supporting character from A Game of You, and be unsurprised by the contrast between her unassuming exterior and the depth of character beneath, which Willingham handles deftly. This book, collecting together a previously published limited monthly comic series, sees her trying to live a reclusive life in Italy. But such pleasant natural balance doesn't last long in Thessaly's life and she's soon haunted and hunted by her witchy past.
Despite Willingham's skill, one of the most pleasing things about the book is the appearance of Shawn McManus on art duties. He drew a good chunk of A Game of You and co-created the Thessaly character, so there's no better artist to take on these duties. He handles it with great skill - his lightly comic style fits surprisingly well with the demonic nature of Thessaly's adversaries and helps pull her complex character into a coherent whole.
Without having absorbed The Sandman, readers aren't going to get much out of this, so it's probably one for the fans. But while it's essentially a derivative work, it's high-class derivation that's honest and respectful of what's come before. Willingham leaves his mark but Gaiman fans shouldn't be disappointed.
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