Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Witch Boy. New York: Graphix, 2017.
Aster comes from a long line of magic users. In his* family, girls are taught spellcraft and become witches, while boys develop shapeshifting powers around puberty. Aster has always been drawn to witchcraft and sneaks around to listen in on the girls’ lessons. He practices spells in secret and is proud of his emerging skills.
Aster repeatedly gets caught by his parents and aunts and uncles and they chastise him, explaining that “women and men have different types of magic… that’s how it is and how it’s always been.” Aster is frustrated at the unfairness; he doesn’t want to shapeshift and has an innate talent for spellcraft. When a dangerous beast threatens the other boys, Aster must use his magical abilities, with the help of a new friend who also defies gendered expectations.
I loved this gorgeous and thoughtful graphic novel. It isn’t difficult to imagine that Aster may be nonbinary or a trans girl, though this idea is never articulated. His long hair, pink shirt, reluctance to use boys’ magic, and skill in girls’ magic all indicate a possible trans identity. Of course, it’s also quite possible that he’s a gender nonconforming boy. After all, why can’t boys like pink and traditional “women’s activities”?
Besides the engaging and thought-provoking narrative, the art is simply spectacular. Ostertag is an illustration veteran, having already worked on several webcomics and graphic novels prior to Witch Boy. Her art is dreamy and expressive, with vivid colors, fluid movement, and wonderfully emotive facial expressions. I also really appreciated the diversity of characters; there is a wide range of body types represented, interracial relationships, and a queer relationship—all of which are unremarked upon.
*I use he/him/his pronouns for Aster because that’s how his family refers to him and he hasn’t indicated a desire for another pronoun set.