Scott Snyder has spent the span of his career dwelling on things that go bump in the night, from the killer mermaids and daywalking vampires of his Vertigo titles “The Wake” and “American Vampire,” to the urban horrors of Gotham City with “Batman,” to the more intangible horrors of magic and loss in his prose anthology “Voodoo Heart.”
Now, Snyder is concentrating on a new breed of monster in his creator-owned Image Comics series “Wytches.” Alongside his old “Detective Comics” cohort Jock, Snyder plans to ditch the modern-day concept of witches on broomsticks, but keep the older elements of cannibalism, natural lore and unnatural pacts with humanity. Hot on the heels of the first issue cover art and solicits, Snyder opened up to CBR about the October-launching series, his own fears and the expectations and burdens of working at DC versus writing for Image.
CBR News: Scott, the first cover image for “Wytches” is out, and so are preview pages and the solicits. We know you’re working in the Brubaker model, where you’re telling one story over five or six issues, but what can you say about the story that kicks off “Wytches” and the introduction to the concept?
Scott Snyder: Well, [with the preview] we wanted to do something that would give readers a taste of what we were doing, without giving anything away of the actual story itself within the book. So we thought it would be very fun to do a stand-alone story that was almost like a separate tease, a moment that was a hidden story or a black case file of the whole witch phenomenon. For the [preview] story, Jock and I decided to put something together; we had a month, and I came up with an idea I thought encapsulated some of the terror, some of the ideas we’re playing with of what these witches are in our mythology. We just decided to go as dark as we could, to show the level of terror we’re going to bring to the series, and hope that people are up for it.
Doing Superman and doing Batman, I write “Batman” pretty dark and pretty horror-driven — “Zero Year” has been, I think, a bright spot for us in terms of tone — we try to be horror and punk rock and all that stuff. Ultimately, my favorite genre to work in is horror, and with this I wanted to flex my muscles. With Jock on the book, I thought it would be great to go as black as possible, to really explore terrifying material. The book is really about the witches themselves being these kind of primal and bestial creatures that live deep in the woods that no one ever really survives to talk about. All the people we’ve ever condemned as witches are the protectors and worshippers of these strange creatures that are so elusive and deadly.
Was your desire to go dark and really emphasize the horror why you decided to do this book at Image rather than Vertigo, where you could push it in a more mature, darker direction and get away from expectations of what a Scott Snyder Vertigo book looks like?
Yeah. I mean, I worked with Jock on “The Black Mirror” on “Detective,” and we had such a good time together. I think one of the things his art is so good at conveying is this sense of unease, you know? The lines, the scratchiness, the unstable angles and darkness he puts in, all of that creates very tense storytelling. And when he explodes with horror, like he did even in “The Black Mirror,” when Joker comes into the story, or when he did the backups for Joker itself, he’s so terrifying, honestly, I knew he was the only person I could do this story with. He was the first and only person I approached about it.
I want it to be something that really stands apart from what I’ve been doing at Vertigo. “American Vampire” is a series that is my baby with [artist] Rafael [Albuquerque], and I love it dearly. It’s also a series that blends horror with historical fiction and action and adventure. It’s fun and pulpy and soap opera, while hopefully still being dramatic and emotional. Whereas “The Wake” was us pushing ourselves to be as exploratory as we could be, me and [artist] Sean [Murphy], and tell a story that was a mash-up of different genres, bizarre tropes, mythology and strange folk legends, anything we could throw together, daring each other to make it work. That book is firmly in the sci-fi adventure camp.
So for “Wytches,” it definitely stands apart from the Vertigo work — one, not because I can’t do what I want to do at Vertigo, but I like to go to a place like Image for this one because I think the book will be so personal and dark. It felt like a nice opportunity to go somewhere different, to flex different muscles and show people that I’m interested in doing creator-owned work outside of DC. It’s been a big part of my identity for myself as a writer not to just be a corporate guy. I love working on “Batman” and Superman, I love the stuff I do at Vertigo, but it’s also fun for me to do a book where we have complete ownership on this and everything falls on us to make. You get together with your friends — it’s like what you did in your tree house, it’s very freeing. So I love both aspects of it — I love writing superheroes and I also love playing with my buddies.
I think you had a scarier tree house than the rest of us, though. [Laughter]
You’re an incredibly popular writer: “Batman” is one of DC’s top sellers, and at Vertigo, the first issue of “The Wake” was the imprint’s top selling issue in over a decade. Do sales expectations weigh on you working at DC and Vertigo, and is working at Image a chance to get away from those number expectations?
It is — that’s a really good question. With Vertigo, they’ve always been really kind about letting the books be what we want them to be, and DC has been wonderful to me too, on “Batman” and Superman — but you know, there’s a built-in sales expectation on superhero books, and they’re measured against how they’ve been doing, whereas creator-owned books, there’s no pressure there. There’s no “Wake” before “The Wake,” so it’s just going to do however it’s going to do. But there’s still the same machinery; you still get checks from the same place, and it’s measured against other books at that place, and you do publicity with the same people. I love all those people and I love that machine, it’s been great to me and I enjoy being a part of it, but I was trying to explain it to DC, saying, I want room in my contract to do things outside of DC, at Image or other companies — aside from Marvel, because any contract with DC or Marvel precludes doing stuff at the other one!
[Laughs] But outside of working for Marvel, I wanted the freedom of working anywhere, from Top Shelf to Image, to flex those muscles.
They were very kind to me and generous about it, but the way I explained it to them was, I come into the city and work here — I don’t literally come into the city. I mean, I’m like someone who comes into the city and works in one place and loves what they do, but wants to be able to buy a house away from the job they have. A house on the weekends you can go to, away from all the stuff you work with on a daily basis. Again, they were really generous. DC was, and my feeling is that this is a big part of what I want to do from here forward, too, to have books outside. Not because they’re outside of DC. I don’t feel a need to be away from them for some reason. It’s more trying a thing I haven’t before. Getting to do books at publishers that are new territory for me, or different kinds of books; just staying exciting and vibrant as a writer, taking on challenges that I haven’t tried before. Even though I did “Severed” with my friend Scott [Tuft], he was really in charge of the production on that book. I wasn’t a big part of it. I was a part of the writing, but putting it out, laying it together, really fell to him. For me, this is something I’ve never tried.
I hope that comes across to people at the end of the day. At this point in my career, I want to be exciting to myself and try things I haven’t tried and be enthusiastic about doing books outside the conditions I’m comfortable in. It’s something I’m really excited about. I really want to do a literary graphic novel sometime, next year if I can, just try things that are scary to me — otherwise, what’s the point, right?
Getting back to the book, does the preview function as a standalone story with the first issues taking us into the world of “Wytches,” or does it tie into the first arc?
The preview was meant as a completely standalone, extra story, with people in it unrelated to the people in the main story. The main story follows a single family, and the basic premise is, they recently moved — it’s a father and mother and a teenage daughter, and they recently moved back to the wife’s hometown because the girl suffered a traumatic experience at school. She was bullied very badly and then something happened that I don’t want to give away, and people are constantly whispering about her. They think its time for a fresh start, so they move here, and of course some of the elements that were scaring them in the place they lived before follow them and it sort of opens up a whole sort of terrible story about witches and what witches really are, what it means for them to come after you and how scary that is. It really focuses on this one family and the main character.
Let me say, the way we get explore character in this book is different from what I’ve done before, too. It’s more a creeping dread book, where you have long scenes where I get to do a lot of character work and give you characters I think are reflective of what I’m afraid of in my real life. For example, the father. He’s a successful children’s book writer, and he has a series of books about an amusement park that comes to life at night; his series is about a boy who lives by the park, his grandfather is the custodian of the park, and it’s all closed down, but at night, the whole place becomes magical and alive. He’s working on the third installment of the series when “Wytches” starts, and he wants to do something a little bit darker and more personal.
There’s a lot of character work that speaks to what I liked to do in prose, before I got into comic books, so I hope in the long run, what it does for the book is create a higher level of terror, because you hopefully identify with these characters deeply and have a lot of time to get to know them intimately. It’s not as fast-paced as something like “Batman,” or even “The Wake.” At the same time, there are big scares every issue, and my hope is those scares are doubly affective because you get to know these characters so well, you don’t want anything to happen to them.
Just looking at the standalone preview, the part where the hand is over the woman’s face as she slowly sees just parts of the witch really brought “The Strangers” to my mind. Are you and Jock drawing from things like that or “Rosemary’s Baby,” and will that slow burn horror aesthetic be part of “Wytches?”
Yeah, it is, actually. One of the reasons “Wytches” is scary to me is because the monsters are scary — the monsters are really scary the way Jock designed them. I think they look different than anything you’ve seen. But what’s scary about it is, witches, traditionally, are cannibalistic. They eat children — well, in the short, they eat anybody, but children are their favorite! [Laughs]
I think what the book is about is this guilt and desire you have as a parent to be the parent your child wants. You want to be this perfect parent, you want to live for them and sacrifice everything. There’s an aching desire too, to live for yourself and have a healthy, individuated life, and what witches do, they’re kind of gods of the self. They are out there tempting you, saying, “Well if you just give us a kid, you can get what you want, you can have anything.” Their knowledge of natural science is incredible, meaning they don’t cast spells; our witches, they aren’t magical, but they can create tinctures and concoctions and all sorts of medicinal mixtures that can cure things modern medicine can’t, all because of ancient knowledge of natural science, which is why so many people worship them. They think, “You can cure terminal illness, you can make me healthy again when I’m suffering.” All those promises are there, all you have to do is give them someone you want to give up — and that doesn’t necessarily mean your kid, it could mean someone else’s kid! [Laughs] It could be some kid you think is a terrible person, who’s going to turn into a sociopath.
They’re out there in the woods, waiting for you to come to them, to give them what they want for what you want. That, for me, is what becomes deeply scary, because it makes the people in the book as scary as the monsters. That decision is horrifying, and it holds a mirror up to the reader and says, “What would you do if you were in this situation?” In that way, I hope the book is scary — not just being traditionally scary with monsters that are terrifying, but emotionally scary the way my favorite [author], Stephen King, is, and George Romero. My favorite horror storytellers do stories where the monsters are terrifying, but what’s ultimately scary is the ugliness of human nature, and the things we do when we’re under pressure. That’s what the book is about. It’s the scariest book I’ve ever done. I’m really, really proud of it!
It feels like you’re also playing with the idea of the unknown, by setting it in the woods; I know, as someone who has only lived in major metropolitan cities my whole life, what scared me the most wasn’t urban crime, but going camping and being alone in the forest. You yourself have lived in NYC your whole life — was that fear of nature as the unknown something you’re playing with? [Snyder laughs] Or did this just show I’m a scaredy cat?
[Laughs] No, that’s a good question! A lot of people think, if you grow up in the city and you never see a tree, it’s really scary — and it is! [Laughs] The truth is, my parents have a really small house on the lake in Pennsylvania, right over the border. They had it since I was about five years old, we actually went there for the fourth of July, they’ve had it that long. As a kid we would go up there and I was really scared most of the time — first, because I thought Pennsylvania was Transylvania. I could not separate the two in my mind and thought there were vampires and monsters in the woods! And second, it’s in a very rural area and right by a long stretch of woods.
Our neighbors there had a son my age, and when we were kids, we would go walking in the woods and go exploring this area down the hill from where we both lived. We would always secretly bring a bat with nails in it we’d hide from our parents. It was all scaring each other. One time, we were going back and we found an old trailer in the woods from what must have been the ’60s, and a burned out old car that must have been from the ’40s or ’50s, like a delivery car. From that moment forward, the woods became fascinatingly scary, where all we did was tell each other, “Oh, this is like a witch, this was from somebody who killed and ate children, we’ve got to find them back here.” We were like thirteen or whatever. The woods, for me, have always had a spooky quality, not just because they’re the setting for all these horror movies, but because you have a primal fear from fairytales and childhood of being lost in them. Of getting turned around and not being able to find your way home. Suddenly, all the things you find familiar are gone; your phone doesn’t work, there are animals, if you’re, lost no one can find you, you could really die. It’s those moments nature becomes really overwhelming and you realize you’re not by any of the trappings of safety.
There’s two elements that are scary in the book; one is that the witches often come into your house to take away your children, so there’s a fear of things creeping in through the windows and under your bed and all that stuff. And then, there’s going out to the woods to find them. We’re trying to make the woods as scary as we possibly can, in terms of the way the witches move through the woods, the way they hide in the woods, their physiology itself and the way they blend in. All that stuff Jock has given a tremendous amount of thought to visually and he’s really come up with some terrifying iterations of these creatures and how they hunt, the ways they wait for us to come to them and in the ways they go after us.
There are two other people I should mention: Matt Hollingsworth is the colorist on the book. He did such a masterful job on “The Wake” and he’s such a genius, we’re glad to have him onboard, and he’s bringing such creepy colors to it. And our editor at Image, David Brothers, has just been terrific, too, about keeping us as scary and neat as we could possibly be. What I’d like to say to everyone, honestly, is thanks for giving us a chance on this book. We’re trying to bring you the scariest thing we can for Halloween, and we just hope you enjoy it!
“Wytches” #1 will haunt shelves October 8.