“Dogwitch: The Whole Shebang” by Dan Schaffer [Comics]

2002. A young person with little interest in comics goes to the store with his friends. While browsing, a graphic novel catches his eye. The cover is provocative, bordering on lurid. It carries a VHS box, splattered with blood. A ghostly figure claws its way out from inside. And from the box cover, an alluring woman stares at him with piercing silver eyes.

That person was me, and that woman was “Shrieking” Violet Grimm. The irresponsible, irrepressible queen of “Molotov magic” and demon-fucking porn. She raises the dead, raises hell, raises a middle finger to the laws of nature and supernature.

Grimm is vulgar, funny, sexy. She’s also the creation of British artist and writer Dan Schaffer. He blasted onto the scene with his love letter to schlock-horror, gothic subcultures, and balls-to-the-wall craziness, and left us with a cult icon.

Now all three “seasons” of Schaffer’s signature series have been collected together into Dogwitch: The Whole Shebang. A beautiful hardcover, which also includes several one-shots and an introduction from horror directors Jen and Sylvia Soska.

Film-making is important to Dogwitch. Having been banished to the dark, dangerous Banewoods, Grimm makes her living by producing gross, OTT sex tapes. Though we never get money shots, Grimm’s depravity is never in doubt. To the extent that even members of the undead are repulsed by her.

There are references to Sam Raimi and Ed Wood. Her movies are shot by Ralph, an animate, chain-smoking plush toy. He’s ever ready to shoot whatever batshit insanity comes their way. They’re ably assisted by Dolores, a hideously scarred doll with psychic powers and her own, sometimes dubious, motivations.

So far, the uninitiated among you may assume that Dogwitch is just trashy fun. It’s definitely fun, and frequently trashy, but part of its success comes from its genuine heart. Grimm is complicated, and beyond her voluptuous front, is a vulnerability born from a life of rejection and tragedy.

An arc running throughout the entire story revolves around the death of her sister Bluebell, who died during the last (and first) gig by their band The Vile Ettes. Grimm blames herself. EVERYONE blames her. After institutionalisation comes her exile. But being freed from the strict constraints of the magical community means she’s able to confront what really happened. A sinister figure has been pulling the strings the whole time. Manipulating Grimm so she can access powers only someone as crazy as her can unleash.

The foundation of Grimm’s story is built on loss. But her banishment allows her to explore and experiment without fear of reprisal. Besides those coming from the goblin circus freaks, eldritch horrors and (worst of all) critics who she gleefully puts occult bombs under.

Through Grimm, Schaffer details the importance of embracing who we are. Standing up for yourself, while accepting that it’s okay to have someone watching your back. That love and any kind of family can exist even in the darkest of places and times. And that authority needs to be challenged, conventions deserve to bent (even broken) in the service of what’s ultimately right.

Two of the one-shots included in Dogwitch: The Whole Shebang focus on Pod. Grimm’s daughter of sorts. And “sorts” is meant both figuratively and literally, given that she’s constructed from the body parts of murdered children.

Pod’s character is both creepy and adorable in a fucked up way. A lost child who, like Grimm, has had to deal with a lot. A little girl lost, who also finds love and security with Grimm’s crew. Like Ralph (and his fellow “Squibs”), Pod actually mixes in a degree of conditional cuteness to proceedings. Which again represents the heart Schaffer injects into all of this.

Schaffer was an early adopter of crossing digital manipulation with more traditional artwork. This was evident in the original covers. But the meat of Dogwitch’s artwork comes from the gorgeous, high contrast inking. As you’ve already seen, Dogwitch is beautiful to look at.

Dogwitch: The Whole Shebang is a gift and a display of gratitude to long time fans like myself. But it’s also a great introduction to one of the finest creators from the fringes of popular culture.

I’ve never felt like Dan Schaffer got his due. He should’ve been a major player in the industry, but he’s never expressed any regrets or disappointment regarding his status. Like the Dogwitch herself, he knows what he’s about and he’s never been ashamed or tamed. Honour them both and do yourself a favour: make room for Dogwitch: The Whole Shebang on your shelf.

Dogwitch: The Whole Shebang is available now. It is due for a US release on March 10th, 2020. You can pick it up from the following outlets:

Amazon UK

1First Comics

Amazon US

 

You can find Dan Schaffer here:

Official Site

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