Envy Strikes a Familiar Chord in Kate Ashwin’s ‘Widdershins’ [Back Pages]
Kate Ashwin's webcomic Widdershins has been running for several years, telling a series of different stories in a quaint little town of the same name. Widdershins is a magical place in the heart of Yorkshire, where technology is banned but magic is heartily encouraged... most of the time. Inhabited by a cast of brilliant rogues, daring adventurers, and heroic cake-makers, it's a uniquely English sort of series, inspired as much by the Great British Bake Off as by classic novels gone by.
Four volumes have currently been published, each telling a different tale with new characters who make their way into the town. Volume Five, about a competitive violinist who turns to magic to try and get one-up on his more talented rival, is called 'Green Eyed Monster', and has headed to Kickstarter, and the campaign has already met the £4000 target and then some. ComicsAlliance spoke to Kate about how Widdershins was first founded, what readers should expect from this latest storyline, and her life in webcomics.
ComicsAlliance: How would you describe Widdershins?
Kate Ashwin: Widdershins is a series of Victorian-era adventure stories set in a magical version of Yorkshire, England! It's largely about wizards in waistcoats, bounty-hunting chain smokers, and mischievous spirits, and I've been having an awful lot of fun making it!
I started on Widdershins some four or so years ago, having decided that there weren't quite enough fun, light-hearted adventure comics out there, and having heard that you should write the comic that you'd want to read, I thought I'd try that. Each book/chapter is a complete tale, since I like resolution, and because writing an end to a story is tricky, so really I should take all the practice I can get.
It also lets me cycle through a lot of different characters, which is great fun as I can have a wide-ranging cast and really explore the world.
CA: What’s the basic premise of the latest story, 'Green-Eyed Monster'?
KA: This time, we're following a jealous ex-soldier who's made a rather ill-advised deal with a sly spirit of Envy. He can steal any skill from someone, but he's soon going to find out that getting exactly what you wanted isn't necessarily a good thing.
CA: What was it about the story which made you want to tell it?
KA: So far, we've got a bit of a Seven Deadly Sins theme going, and envy is easily my favourite of the seven, since there's such interesting character potential there. I wanted to have some fun with writing a more relatable kind of antagonist, since who hasn't always wanted to be able to pick up a skill like playing the violin with absolutely zero effort?
I was also quite eager to revisit some of the characters from the second volume, 'No Rest For The Wicked', since they're a ton of fun to write for. Lots of good bickering there.
CA: The last Widdershins story was a supernatural tale of cake-making and abduction; this one is about a musical rivalry gone sour. How do you decide what should or shouldn't be a Widdershins story?
KA: For this first arc of books, I've been working with the Deadly Sins theme, so that's been giving me a nice basis to work from. It's hard to say how the various plots end up as they are, it can be something as simple as having a spark of an idea while watching Great British Bake Off, even.
They definitely have an overall similar light tone, though, and I'm trying to stick to that as best as I can. I've rejected a few ideas that came over a little dark, since after all the Sins theme can very much lead that way. I know I had some amount of trouble coming up with a way of handling the story based around Lust, but I think I've got there in the end with the family-friendly tone intact!
CA: Why take this to Kickstarter?
KA: Mostly because printing comics is a very expensive endeavor! But also, I think readers enjoy being part of watching the project come into being, and having input on extras and such. A month on Kickstarter is a stressful but incredibly rewarding month, and there's nothing quite comparable.
CA: How important do you feel Kickstarter has been for your career as a comics-maker?
KA: Incredibly. I'm entirely unsure where I'd be without it, frankly. I was able to pay for the printing of my first book through our own savings, and it was sort of terrifying to put down that kind of money without knowing if anyone would even want the book, and we'd end up several grand out of pocket with a pile of books gathering dust. Luckily, it did quite well, and when the time to print the second one came around, Kickstarter was open to the UK, and it made a world of difference. Having a set of preorders ready to go meant an awful lot, financially and emotionally!
CA: You work full-time on Widdershins, I believe --- what's your daily schedule like, generally speaking? How is the webcomics way of life?
KA: Something of a riotous mess, but I've no-one to blame for that but myself! I'd love to say that I have a neat calendar and a set of alarms that I adhere to strictly, but really it's more of a case of the occasional all-nighter and not getting an awful lot of sleep. I update Widdershins with a new page twice a week, and each can take upward of 20 hours depending on the level of detail (add an extra five hours if there's a horse or an explosion somewhere on the page) so I'm often up at 4am on my third cup of tea, still with the coloring left to do.
I'm lucky enough to have made a lot of comic-making friends online though and chatting with them is quite a lot like having co-workers! I've recently been invited to join a collective of awesome webcomic-making ladies over at Countershot Press, which has been a great lifeline. And I'm also lucky that my husband can tell when the cabin fever is setting in, and is very good at making sure I actually leave the house sometimes.
It's long hours and hard work, but I wouldn't trade it for the world - Getting to tell these silly stories and having people tell me that they enjoy them, it's the best feeling.
CA: What stage are you at with this project? How much have you already completed?
KA: It's done! All pages finished, edited and proofread. I've still to draw some extra material added on from a stretchgoal, but that's all! I don't like taking a project to Kickstarter that I haven't already finished, as it's an immense amount of pressure to work while people are waiting for the product. Much more comfortable to finish first and get it shipped nice and quickly.
CA: What’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
KA: I'll have it at the printers at the start of September, so hopefully it'll be in my hands in October! With enough luck, tea, and biscuits, I'll be able to have it all packed away and sent out to backers by November!