Malleus Maleficarum (SLG Publishing)

Artist Mike Rosen brings tongue-in-cheek life to this 15th century "guide to the catching and burning of witches."


136 pgs. B&W; $10.95
(W / A: Mike Rosen)
Officially titled Malleus Maleficarum: The Original Medieval Guide to the Catching and Burning of Witches!, the original text was published in 1487 by two religious scholars: the (apparently) aggressively anti-witch Heinrich Kramer and his more scholarly and even-tempered cohort Jacob Sprenger. Rosen has translated the original into a rather sordidly-illustrated graphic novel. The original text was a series of questions and answers, and Rosen’s interpretation is framed as a lecture by Heinrich that is interrupted occasionally by Jacob with pointed questions about Henrich’s assertions.
Think Pinky and the Brain, but where Pinky is the logical one.
The graphic novel is divided into 3 main parts with a bit of setup and fallout history on either side of the core text. The first section explains the fundamentals of witchcraft and how to recognize a witch. The second section goes into very specific detail about the things witches can do (curses, charms, communing with devils, etc.) and how they can be nullified. The third section (surprisingly brief) deals with trials and the inevitable executions of condemned witches.
It is occasionally very funny. Most of the humor stems from exaggerated illustrations and sight-gags, which isn’t really My Thing, but even I’m going to snicker at a witch feeding a cluster of disembodied penises as if they’re a flock of chickens. My personal favorite is Rosen’s depiction of God: one part Sun, two parts tiny old man with a giant noggin and an attitude to match. The problem is that aside from the occasional non-sequitur and anachronism, the text basically has one joke, perfectly summarized by some faux cover-art at the back of the book: "witches be bitches."
It got old. And since Rosen was true to the original text, there was no "and then we learned a very important lesson about how great women really are" punchline in the end. Maybe it’s that semester of Medieval Christianity I took in college, but this book felt like "naughty" homework. It was like I’d slipped an old copy of MAD Magazine into something by St. Augustine to read while pretending to pay attention in class. Falling asleep during a lecture on the origin of witch trials, this book would be that dream. The text takes itself very seriously. Even transfigured to work within the graphic novel format, its medieval origins were obvious. The illustrations, however, were a complete farce. Maybe if the text had taken itself a little less seriously, or if the illustrations were a bit less goofy, it might have worked better for me.
Mostly, I was left scratching my head wondering why Rosen bothered. | Kelly Stephenson

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