Women and witches: they are powerful, they are strong, and men have tried to keep them in line as long as men have existed.
It was noticing that even today, perhaps especially today, that inspired Ben Blacker to write Hex Wives, a story of witches reincarnated again and again for centuries only to be subdued by the Architects, an insidious and evil group of men who wish these women to be “tamed.” They are relegated to Stepford-esque housewives. But then they begin to remember.
“It came from a place of anger. It came from seeing the inequality around me and seeing the way my wife and my sisters and my female friends were treated and the way their lives were different from mine when we were really doing all the same things,” Blacker says. “And it made me angry.”
Blacker is quick to admit his white male privilege, one in part shaped by a typically white form of optimism that everyone is equal already, rather than everyone should be considered equal but often they are not. “I went through life pretty blindly for 20 years thinking that we are all the same and we’re probably treated the same,” he says. “The second half of my life made it very evident that is not the case. The way to help or the way to get out of the way or the way to talk about it, I know how to write. I don’t know how to do many other things. If I can use that platform to talk about things that are important to me, I’m going to do it.”
But Hex Wives is about far more than the subjugation of women and witches by men. It also centers upon and celebrates women beyond the cis-white-hetero ilk we're long accustomed to. A key element of the story involves the lives-long love between two women, Nadiya and Izzy, one of only two white women in the story (“And don’t get too attached to the other one,” Blacker says.). It was important to both Blacker and artist Mirka Andolfo to make the world of Hex Wives as diverse as the real world.
“That was always the design. I hate opening up a comic and all the people look the same,” Blacker says. “One of my favorite comics of the last five to 10 years is Ms. Marvel. That book felt like reading Spider-Man when I was a kid. You want a broader palate of experience and culture from which to draw your experience. They are a mash-up of different things because that’s what the world is.”
In creating a diverse group of women, he worked with Andolfo to develop not only the characters but to shape the tone of the story as a whole. “I’m cartoonish but I tried to make realistic characters, not only for the art side but because these women are very realistic,” Andolfo says. “Sometimes in comics we see sex bombs or something. I feel very near to them. They are all different, different ages, different cultures.”
Andolfo took that sense of different to the page in other ways, allowing Hex Wives to strike a balance beyond the spooky. “Sometimes they are very dark, and creepy moments, but also moments that are nice and colorful,” she says.
The various differences between the characters extend to their powers as well, one of which every living woman today can identify with: anger. “The main character, Izzy, her superpower is violence,” Blacker explains. “It’s a capacity for violence beyond her physical limitation. And I think the really cool thing Mirka did in designing the character is you get the anger. You get that it’s so pent up and she’s definitely the angriest character I’ve ever written and that’s been very cathartic too.”
“She’s very badass,” Andolfo continues. “She’s very strong. Her look is very particular and I like this because her face is very sharp. She’s like a punk in some ways.”
The characters are each based upon a pop culture witch, from Samantha Stevens to Gabourey Sidibe’s Queenie from American Horror Story: Coven, though Blacker took inspiration from other, less expected sources as well. Becky, the character based on Queenie, is also based on musician Lizzo. “With her in my head, writing this character was so joyful. Even when she’s given a bag of shit,” Blacker says. “When she finds out they’re witches, she’s like 'What? YES. I KNEW IT.'”
This sense of joy is a necessary part of the series as far as Blacker is concerned. “You don’t want a story to just be one thing,” he says. “It’s a drama and it’s a horror story but people have a sense of humor. People make jokes especially when things are really dark. You want to have all the flavor. It can be so dark but it can be very funny and very sexy.”
While the story and its sense of the palpable, potent anger inside of women is exceptionally relevant today in the #MeToo era, Blacker has been “living with,” as he puts it, this story for four or five years.
“I feel like we’re just lucky to be part of the conversation,” he says. “What I’m really enjoying is doing this book has given me the opportunity to talk to people who know a lot more than I do. I’ve done a lot of homework for this book—both cultural and historical—but also just talking to people, asking what are we doing wrong and how can we make it better. Because I have this platform now. What can I get across? To me, it’s always about the little things that are representative of ingrained patriarchy, myself included, and how do we change that.”
Part of using his platform includes painting the patriarchy itself: as a series of middle-aged white men being the absolute worst. “I hate these guys,” Blacker says. “I put a line in the first issue of one of these guys saying ‘we’re gonna disrupt the system’ which is a thing I hear from the worst white men and I felt like if I put it in here maybe someone will see it and stop saying that.”
Like in life, the evils of the men in charge are born out of a hateful fear, the kind of hateful fear that leads them to legislate and oppress people into submission or even out of existence.
“These men are afraid of women’s power, of being replaced, they’re afraid of change and not being in charge anymore, and hitting on that gave me a baseline to at least have a little sympathy for these characters,” Blacker says. “They’re still terrible. When the women finally get to kick their asses, it feels great.”
Andolfo doesn’t conceal her grin. “Oh, I can’t wait.”