Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times
Rocky Wood, Lisa Morton and Greg Chapman
Review by Matthew Tait
Having a somewhat passing acquaintance with a creator behind Witch Hunts, I was well aware of this graphic novel’s conception and genesis some time ago. The long road to publication saw a mutual desire by all three participants to bring something unique to the table: an original slant detailing a part of history now mired in myth but no less potent for that: the Witch Hunts and Burning Times of the middle ages … a collective mass-hysteria that encompassed every shade and continent of the known world at the time.
We begin our journey with an overview, and see how – with just a few short stanzas of the Bible – the world of men and organized faith perverted their religion, ushering in a whole new world of macabre justice almost unfathomable in the details. From the humble beginnings of rural towns in Europe, with local populaces at a perpetual loss to explain negative weather patterns, illness and death – they sought a scapegoat in the name of witchcraft and sexual liaison with Satan. The reality, of course, was that such parlays were so rare as to be non-existent – and the only way to extract confessions and play out their bloodlust was to implement obscene torture. This physical agony included everything from ‘trial by water’ to medieval devices that crushed legs, extracted fingernails, and choked an unwitting victim to the point they would invariably declare guilt. Once the philosophy was set in motion (proliferated by such witch-hunting bibles as the Malleus Maleficarum), no one was immune to the outbreak, ensuring that brother would rise up against brother and the methods of execution became even more acute.
The biggest attribute of Witch Hunts probably comes in the form of its education. Even if you have an intimate knowledge of the burning times and in particular events like the Salem Witch Trials, there is bound to be a nugget of information within these pages that will come as a surprise. Moreover, the book is philosophical at heart, and you will be asking yourself the pertinent questions. Such as: is it possible that an intelligent species has to go through such a brutal and arcane process to achieve eventual enlightenment? And how, exactly, does a book that millions preach contains benign moral code undertake such a perverse reversal where acts of profound evil are committed in its name? The revelations contained within will entice you to seek out your own answers – and there are a plethora of names, dates, and situations that just beg for further research on a personal part.
Whether you are a graphic novel fan, a horror aficionado or even a scholar of history, Witch Hunts is a must-have compendium of art – a project that the illustrator, Greg Chapman, seemed born to. With these black and white illustrations, we find a level of sophistication in his resume previously unseen. And in a digital age of electronic prose and art, Witch Hunts is the perfect physical purchase to compliment a library. Glossy, defined, and above all enlightening, all three authors have outdone themselves creating a dark epoch of human history and making this an experience that far exceeded my expectations.