Jolene, Andy, and Claire

“Spell on Wheels” #1 – Review and Inktober Days 14 – 16

“Spell on Wheels” #1: The Review

Spell on Wheels cover by Ming Doyle

Cover by Ming Doyle

Three witches (“Sister Witches”) discover their house has been broken into, and some magical items have been stolen.  Together, they get a cool looking car and start tracking the thief down via his eBay sales.

It can be tough to review first issues sometimes.  Setting up a first issue’s review can burn you through a couple hundred words before you realize it.  Paradoxically, the lack of a complete story gives you less to write about.  In the end, half the review is about what’s in the first issue, and the other half is whether you think the tease of the first issue is strong enough to get you to try the rest. It’s a dangerous position, in that you almost have to guess what the rest of the series is about to see if you’d like it, all the while hoping the creative team surprises you.  Confusing, isn’t it?

“Spell on Wheels” #1 has a catchy play-on-words title that I like, so we’re off to a good start before even opening up the book.  The interiors of the issue has stuff happening in it, but it’s obviously just the kick-off to the plot for the series.  The witches’ apartment is burglarized.  The second issue will begin the story’s second act, which looks to be a quest thing. The witches all hop into a fancy hot rod of a car and go on a road trip to get as many of the stolen items back as they can find.  That’s the spine of the thing. It’s the gas that will get the fire burning.

All the while, the question of who stole the stuff in the first place looms large, setting up the third act at the end.  That’s where the fire hits the gunpowder and you hope for a good explosive ending. (Not literally, of course.  Unless this is a “Die Hard” comic or something.  That would be unexpected…)

The Creative Team

Writer Kate Leth creates three distinct characters in the book, who are easily separated and defined for their respective skills.  Some caption boxes at the start quickly and easily explain it to you, but it’s their actions as the issue progresses that makes them more memorable.

The art of Megan Levens breathes life into the characters.  They’re not terribly deep as written in the first issue (though there’s obviously more going on beyond the obvious), but the acting skills of Levens’ pen imbues them with spirit and believability. Her ability to draw these characters convincingly allows Leth to keep her dialogue sharper.  There’s no need to explain everything in dialogue when you can see it on the page. And Levens draws lots of convincing backgrounds to keep locations well established throughout the issue.

Her style would work really well on modern Archie comics, I’d think.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name over there after this mini-series, if she so wished. It would be a natural fit.  There’s also a bit of the similarly-named Tim Levins’ artwork in her style, particularly if you look at her faces and some of Levins’ earlier “Copybook Tales” era work.

The colors of Marissa Louise are fairly straightforward.  There’s no magic tricks being used in Photoshop here, and most of the light is fairly representational, not impressionistic or “artistic.” (Background colors are about as adventurous as it gets.) There are few textures and the shadows are basically cell shaded.  It adds a little depth to the art that way, and doesn’t try to show itself off with gradients and lens flares and color keys.  It’s much more subtle.  It’s a good bright palette to let the artwork shine.  It fits Levens’ art style perfectly.


A Couple Lettering Notes

Spell on Wheels, where the lettering goes right to left

I don’t have the credits for the letterer on the preview PDF here, but they did a great job in saving lots of panels.

If there’s one criticism to be made of the issue, it’s that the person on the right is talking before the person on the left.  A lot. If this is done all script first, then that’s on the artist. If the dialogue is written after the art is drawn — or if it is rewritten after the art is done — then that’s on the writer.  The letterer pretty slickly juggles things around to make them work as best as they can, though. The long winding balloon tails are the dead giveaway.

Spell on Wheels, Jolene introduction caption box

Also, there’s one weird thing that’s a combination of writer and letterer. It’s on the page where we’re introduced to the sister witches.  Jolene and Claire get introductory captions. Andy does not, weirdly.

On top of that, Jolene’s explanatory caption is drawn closer to Claire.  I wasn’t sure who it was describing at first.  Now, the Nguyen last name is a tip-off that it’s likely the one with the straight black hair, but judging ethnicity by hair these days is a fool’s errand.  If that box was shoved a little further down and to the right, it might have been clearer.  It’s a nit-pick either way; Claire gets her intro caption in the very next panel.  Any confusion is momentary.


This first issue is the first in what I assume will be a six issue storyline.  It sets up the characters, gives us the scenario, and then sets the women up on their way.  It’s not that nothing happens, but that this is all the first act.  There’s some character building in here, with a heap of world building.  The action part looks to be coming next, and that’s the part that’ll get exciting.

I want to see more before I’d officially “recommend” it.  If this sounds like the kind of story you might be interested in (“Buffy meets The Craft“), though, then I’d give you the all clear.  It’s a well made comic, so if the themes and genre sound right to you, go ahead.  When the mini-series is over, I’ll be able to better judge.

The big standout from this issue, though, is Megan Levens’ art.  She’s a talented artist who’s just beginning her rise in the world of comics.  She’s done some work with Jamie S. Rich already (the “Madame Frankenstein” mini at Image and the “Ares & Aphrodite” OGN at Oni), as well as some “Buffy” work and a story in the “Fables” finale.  Can’t wait to see more!


Inktober 2016, Days 14 – 16


Day 14: Jolene



Inktober 2016 Day 14 - Jolene from Spell on Wheels


I forgot to draw the tattoos she has up and down her right arm.  Whoops.  Probably for the best; my original plan was to fake it with some squiggly blue lines on another layer and blur/gray them out a bit.

You’ll also notice I’m running out of time to color these things in.  Ah, well, there’s always next month!

Also, it should be noted that Jolene is Asian. I’m not sure that comes across in this drawing at all.  I’m still figuring out some bits of my art style.   One of them is how to draw different races without being horrible stereotypical caricatures.  Just when you think you’re treading on the right side of that line, someone is bound to be offended.


Day 15: Andy

I had time to color her in, partially because it was so simple a job to do.

Inktober 2016 Day 15 Andy from Dark Horse's Spell on Wheels


Day 16: Claire

I tried a couple different things here.  Most notably, I added the thick black outline around the character, much like I see Todd Nauck do in all his sketches.  I like the final outcome more than I thought I would.  In part, I think it’s because it forced me to make an even thicker black line than I normally do when doing thicks and thins.

I also had to do some last minute redrawing from the original pencils before starting the inks.  Lots of little things weren’t working for me, like hair shape, leg length, the left hand, etc.  I think it all works out in the end, particularly with the colors.

Claire from "Spell on Wheels" for Inktober 2016


It’s really bothering me no that Jolene is in black and white.  Maybe I can fix that in November when I have a free moment again…

Spell on Wheels Pipeline and Inktober promo image

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