Disclosure: The author of this article is a member of the Discord server Ink Drop Café along with Mharz. Participants in the Webcomic of the Week column are selected mainly on a first come first serve/volunteer basis, plus occasional direct contact with creators. Professional favoritism, quid-pro-quo transactions, and bias—political or otherwise—are not involved in selecting the creators featured in and interviewed in this column.
In The Angel with Black Wings, CHAMPS author aviMharz featherstitches together a story of friends in high places.
The Angel with Black Wings is a webcomic that offers a fresh spin on the time-honored concept of the guardian angel. It follows a down-on-his-luck young man known as Ray; a product of a truly miserable environment, Ray is bullied relentlessly in school and also has a poor relationship with his family, and he yearns to just get away from it all. His only succor and hope lies in the fact that he can see the mysterious winged beings known as angels, including one who catches his eye in particular: the angel with black wings.
It isn’t long before Ray meets the object of his fixation; it is the angel with black wings herself who swoops in and saves him from an accident that would have claimed his life. It is this act that begins to turn Ray’s uneventful, doldrum life on its head, but rather than finding the salvation that he so desperately craves, Ray comes to discover that the world of angels is prone to its own problems.
The titular angel with black wings, a kindly but enigmatic woman known only as Big Sis, plays one of the most major roles in the story. But many other characters, divine and otherwise, come out of the woodwork to leave their mark on Ray’s life.
In The Angel with Black Wings, angels are strictly forbidden from interfering in the affairs of humans. It is when we first learn this fact—from the imposing and traditionalist angel Silver as she overpowers and restrains Big Sis to stop her from laying hands on the bullies that are physically assaulting Ray—that we truly realize the bleak, bittersweet unfairness that permeates the world Mharz has crafted. And it is also here that we begin to realize that for all the mortality of one and the divinity of the other, Ray and Big Sis are two sides of the same coin: their own worlds have all but rejected them.
Tragedy is simply a part of protagonist Ray’s life. But The Angel with Black Wings refrains from using it to suffocate the reader, instead letting it gently color the story like a drop of ink spreading through a glass of water.
To their credit, though, Mharz is not content to let The Angel with Black Wings unfold into yet another painfully tired, trite rage-against-the-machine story that beats the reader over the head with lessons about standing up to society and its unfair expectations. Rather, they have let the inherent unjustness of their world quietly flow through the story, resulting in a plot that challenges and provokes the reader. How many of us would have obeyed the order to stand by while Ray was being beaten by his tormentors?
Angels in The Angel with Black Wings tend towards being a determined, ferocious bunch. But as Ray comes to find out, not only are many of them unwilling to solve humans’ issues, they are plagued by no shortage of their own.
This portrayal of societal injustice as not something to be endlessly railed against, but as something that just is, is one of the most intriguing things that The Angel with Black Wings brings to the table. Furthermore, as Mharz is not shy to demonstrate, rebellion has consequences. Ray’s caustic but understandable bitterness at the world that continues to wrong him has left him with no real friends besides Big Sis, along with a troublesome and difficult personality. And Big Sis’s defiance at the clear and absolute rules set forth in her own world has had more physical consequences: as we find out in a later chapter, her renegade behavior has stained her wings a livid, shadowy black.
But make no mistake: hopelessness is yet another trap that The Angel with Black Wings, steered by Mharz’s pithy yet flavorful writing, refrains from falling into. While angels such as Silver stress the importance of following Heaven’s rules, and humans such as Danilo Tamaraw stand ready to shame and torment anyone who is even remotely removed from society, not once does the story’s moral boil down to “take injustice lying down.” While Mharz’s world can be tragic at times, the overall message is one of hope: the hope that everything, for both our protagonists and the world as a whole, will someday be better.
Is that hope something that’s worth holding onto? Perhaps that’s something to talk to your guardian angel about.
What was your thought process when crafting the story and setting for The Angel with Black Wings? Did anything in particular inspire or influence you?
- Mharz: The Angel with Black Wings was supposed to be just a short plot that got complex as I work on the story. New characters get added, events cause another set of events. I’m actually just working and fleshing it out as I go. As for inspiration, I was very fascinated with angels or at least how they are visually depicted and how elegant they are and I really really like to try and draw pretty things.
How far into theology and angels did you delve when researching the story? There are guardian angel-like figures in quite a lot of belief systems around the world, would you say that the story of The Angel with Black Wings could have a religious or spiritual interpretation?
- Mharz: Not very deep. I really just played around with the concept of guardian angels like how they guide people. They pretty much serve as a catalyst for the plot. I’m not intending it to focus on religion, but the values of forgiving. I do check it out for inspiration and will apply some parts that were mentioned in books like the War of Heaven.
Backtracking a little to the topic of crafting the story… considering that this is a comic that’s so driven by its own characters, how would you “pitch them” to a brand new reader? What are their motivations and what would happen if they had the power to get what they wanted?
- Mharz: The titular character a.k.a. Big Sis pretty much has a brooding personality. She did something in the past that she deemed unforgivable. If she had the power to get what she wanted, she would want to erase everything and start a new life.
Ray is one of those angsty teenagers who gets into trouble. Because he was bullied, he doesn’t trust anyone resulting in him being rude to people. If he had the power, he would have a complete family and circle of friends.
Silver is an angel who likes to do harmless mischief to people as a form of amusement. She obviously has a liking towards Big Sis and would totally want her to be happy and probably go on a date with her.
Mara is a smart girl who is at the top of her class. Her ideal highschool life is to be surrounded by a circle of friends so she tries to fit in from following the trends to bullying the people her so-called friends bully. If she had the power, she would have the courage to tell a certain person that she likes him.
And if you could step into your own world and give genuine, heartfelt advice to all these folks… what would it be?
- Mharz: I’d like to tell Big Sis to take it easy and not blame herself on anything bad that is happening around her. Ray should reduce his angstiness and be nice to people especially Big Sis. Mara should tell that person what she really feel already. Silver is already cool so she can just do her own thing.
Hmm… this “certain person” that Mara has feelings about, their name wouldn’t happen to start with “R” and end with “ay,” would it?
- Mharz: Maaaaybeeeeee? You gotta ask her yerself. XD
If you could do anything different about the comic’s earlier chapters or even the comic as a whole, what would you do if given the chance?
- Mharz: I wanna improve my paneling, camera angles and my speech balloons. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with what I have done so far. When I started the series I was totally super noob in making comics and most of the art knowledge I got is from animation. I didn’t know about the thing about pacing and speech bubble directions and such. I sorta just learned it as I progress. I’m probably gonna make a few adjustments for it if I have the time but a remake is out of the question.
And somewhat related to that last question: are there any subplots or characters that ended up being cut from the comic, that you’re just dying to tell us about? Did anyone ever undergo significant changes in their name/appearance during development, and if so, what were they like before?
The earliest designs for The Angel with Black Wings bore a resemblance to the stylized, rounded characters of the old-timey puzzle adventure game series Professor Layton.
- Mharz: Oh they did change a lot. I initially was shooting for a style similar to Professor Layton (I love that game) and I decided to shift to a different style which fits more ideals. Big Sis and Silver were the first ones I designed. It was initially for a short animation project for a short course I took. I honestly don’t know if I can tell something that is not spoilery but originally Mara didn’t exist. It was when I re-wrote it, I realized that there needs to be another human there that Ray could interact with. Silver also changed too. She was just initially a human turned angel but in this current version, she already an angel right from the get go and I gave her a super special role and I think it totally fits her.
This has been a fantastic first interview. One last question: if you could, what advice or message would you give to someone who’s about to read The Angel with Black Wings for the first time?
- Mharz: All I gotta say is that you have to prepare for some feels and I hope you give it a chance to read because I promise it’s not gonna be what it seems.
Is reading about Ray’s plight bringing out your inner guardian angel? Care to see more of Big Sis and Silver? Or simply interested in Mharz and their work as a whole? Find their social media sites here: