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Scott Snyder’s Worst Fears Plague the Pages of “Wytches”

by  in Comic News Comment
Scott Snyder’s Worst Fears Plague the Pages of “Wytches”

In January of this year, Scott Snyder announced at Image Expo that he and his regular artist collaborator Jock would be teaming up to create a terrifying new series redefining the mythology of witches. The teaser image of stark lines, ominous shadows and jagged shapes was enough to conjure all sorts of nightmares about what evils lurk in the woods, and as more information was revealed about the series, readers’ curiosity has been further piqued.

“Wytches” is built on a fairly simple concept — a family moves to a new town to help their teenage daughter Sailor recover from a traumatic run-in with a bully that ended in tragedy. Haunted by the incident, Sailor begins to wonder what really happened that day in the woods. Helpless to protect their daughter, her loving parents try to soothe her anxieties as best they can, but when Sailor begins to see familiar shadowed figures outside her window, they have to wonder where the truth really lies. Are Sailor’s fears getting the best of her, or are there unimaginable evils waiting for her family?

RELATED: Snyder Casts A Spell With Image’s “Wytches”

I was able to get my greedy little hands on the first issue, which I read all alone in my office one evening. After the first page, my light burnt out, which should’ve been my cue to put the comic down and back slowly away — except I didn’t. Snyder and I had planned to chat later that evening, and I wanted to be prepared. So I read the entire comic, alone in the dark, and nearly had a heart attack when my phone rang. Luckily it was Snyder, who shared details about how personal this series is for him, as a parent as as someone struggling with anxiety, and how his being a horror fan since childhood inspires his writing to this day.

CBR News: Scott, before we officially began this interview, we were talking about how being a parent has been a significant influence on “Wytches.” Can you share more about that?

Scott Snyder: Part of the impetus comes from some of the ups and downs of parenting — the sense of joy and wonder, but also the total terror and guild that comes with being a parent, the terror that this thing that’s sort of a vital organ in your body has left your body and is out there in the world. That’s the way it feels. Something is out there, and if anything happened to it, you would die. You worry about that thing all the time. So that sense of exhausting concern and love is part of what the book is about. These ancient, timeless thing, the wytches, wait for you to come to them with things you need to stave off sickness, death, to help somebody that’s sick, to get something for the one you love — whatever you need. You come and you give them someone else, and they’ll give you what you want. So in that sense, asking what you’d do to save your kid, what would you do to save your wife or your husband, or to get what you want if you’re selfish? They’re always out there to make a trade.

I got to read the first issue, and I loved it so much. One of the things I was taken with was how Sailor’s father deals with her anxiety and connects with her over this traumatic incident. It felt authentic.

Thank you so much, I’m really proud of it, and that’s a really personal part. Obviously, I still struggle with anxiety. Like I was saying to you earlier, before the interview, I was an extremely nervous kid and had lots of anxieties to deal with. The funny thing is that you and I were talking about this as friends a little while ago — about my kid’s first days of school and how surprisingly socially adept my older son is, where as I was a nervous wreck on my first day of school. That sense of fear, at least from me, is that my children would have the same anxiety that made things not the best. So in the series, there’s the sense of a dad who is struggling with a child who has been traumatized, but more importantly, is suffering, and he doesn’t know how to take it away. He tries to give her the tools to get through it, but the worst thing in the world is when your kid is in pain and you can’t take it from them. That scene, and the bullying scene, they were really important to me.

Yeah, I remember that you’d said before that something that was important to you when writing horror stories was processing your own fears. Is that where these narratives come from, both the fears of a parent and the fears of living with anxiety?

Yeah, both, in a big way. The story is deeply about a child who suffers from anxiety, and parents who would do anything to protect her from the world. It’s also personal in a way in that the monsters prey on the most desperate aspects of human nature — your child is suffering, they’ll do something to help you, but you have to do something awful. I knew as soon as I came up with that story element that it would engender the kind of horror I really love. Not just because it’s scary — the monsters themselves are incredibly scary, Jock did a great design — but it offers the kind of situations that make for horror that’s exploratory about how dark things can get and how heroic characters can be when faced with monstrous decisions.

What do you think is unique to the medium of comics in telling those kinds of horror stories?

The thing that’s the most effective about horror in comics is that it’s so intimate. You don’t have a lot of the tools that you have with film and television. You don’t have the shock or the sound. What you have is an incredibly personal experience, an immersive experience, to just be alone with the book and have it brought to life by your own imagination. The thing that comics offer that other mediums can’t is the intimacy with the world: It’s just you and your imagination filling in what’s between the panels. It can be very claustrophobic, so I try to play that up with the slow burn, the creeping dread, something being just to the left or right of the panel. It’s incredibly thrilling to write that way. I love writing horror in comics for that reason.

I would probably never go see a horror movie alone, but I’ll read comics alone. It’s interesting to think about the control you have in the experience — in a horror movie, I can’t control the action, but in a comic, I decide when to turn the page. How do you think about the pacing when you’re writing?

That’s what I mean. If you put the dread in the subtext, you can experience it over and over again as you go back and read it, seeing the different layers that have been designed in the story. For example, in the first issue, you see a school bus that Sailor’s waiting on. You see it again in Issue #2. In the first issue, it’s just there, but when you see it later, you can connect the dots and understand things more deeply. Seeing those layers is part of the joy. It’s a literary experience — not just this book, but good horror in comics. That’s why I love what Robert [Kirkman] is doing with “Outcast” and “The Walking Dead.” You become so connected with the characters and the world, you fear deeply for those characters because you have a connection with them that’s solitary and singular. You’re reading their words, alone. You’re imagining them doing things between the panels as you’re reading. You fear for them in a way that isn’t necessarily as potent in a movie, where the pacing rolls forward.

You mentioned a couple of great ones, but what was the first horror comic that made an impression on you?

The first horror comic was definitely “Swamp Thing.” Arcane and the Patchwork Man and the Unmen and Bernie Wrightson’s art, which I followed around from “Creepshow” and everything else he was doing at the time. That sense of the gothic macabre caught my imagination. Swamp Thing being this tormented thing that didn’t know what he was, and how he could become human again — that meant a lot to me.

In terms of novels, I was a huge Stephen King fan from early on. The first novel that caught my imagination was “Eyes of the Dragon.” I was a little older than my son, actually. I was eight. I went to sleep-away camp for the summer. It was a very — athletic camp. I wasn’t really into it. I didn’t like it very much at first at all, but I had this great counselor named Ted, and he read to us from “Eyes of the Dragon” every night. I just looked forward to it so much, Flagg and Roland and all of those characters. After that, it was “Pet Semetary.” Horror has always been a big staple for me. It’s my favorite genre.

Stephen King was an early favorite for me, too, and I think it’s interesting that so many kids grow up reading him. There isn’t a lot of horror out there designed for kids, but they know the world is a scary place. They can see the horrors in it, and to not have it regularly acknowledged in their literature seems short-sighted.

I know! It’s really hard to know as a dad what to give them. Their questions when they’re young — my son Jack is seven — are just so probing and mature. He’ll ask things about death, about what happens when you die, how old you’ll be when you die, and then on the other hand, he has no concept of age. For example, I told him the other day that I watched “Batman: The Animated Series” when I was a kid, and he was like, “So why wasn’t it in black and white?”

Another example — I was flipping channels to get to his station, and “Gladiator” was on and there was a stabbing with a splash of blood, which is a parent fail, but I was trying to get to cartoons. He saw it and he covered his eyes. It was horrifying to him, and you remember immediately how incredibly sensitive they are to things that are adult-scary. It’s strange, and it’s a really odd balance. He’s really interested in seeing the movies I watched as a kid, so the other day we watched “The Karate Kid” and that was great for him. He loved it. But then we watched “Gremlins,” and that movie is really scary. After a couple of points, he was like, “I think this is too scary, dad.” And I totally understand, and we stopped.

I think the best thing about comics and books is exploring. He likes ghost stories, so we’ve tried a few of those, and now we’re reading “The BFG” which is scary in a lot of ways. The giants eat kids! But he really likes it and we’re taking turns reading it. As corny as it sounds, I’m a big believer in letting kids see scary things.

Not because I was such a horror movie fanatic — or maybe it is because I’m a horror movie fanatic and I’m trying to justify my own pathological nature or whatever — but as a kid I rented so many horror movies before I should’ve seen them. There was a video store that wouldn’t rent them to kids, but they’d deliver them if you ordered them. It was the neighborhood secret. Anyway, the thing I believe is that to sanitize things or have them incredibly G-rated all the time — there’s something strange about that. There’s a balance. Fairy tales are dark and scary, and you should judge what’s appropriate for your kids. Obviously with “Wytches” I don’t let him near anything. It’s a balancing act.

The series deals with this family — The Rooks — in the first arc. Does the continuing story follow them in future arcs? Or do we see new families come into the mix? Are the wytches widespread beyond this one town?

There are characters from this arc that will repeat in future arcs. I don’t want to give away who lives and who dies, but there’s going to be crossover between this arc and future arcs, both in terms of human characters and the expanding mythology of the wytches themselves.

I was interested to see that the preview pages we saw for “Wytches” weren’t in the first issue, and the art in the first issue is a little different. It blew me away, but I was curious to find out more about that.

Yeah, I came up with that story and we worked hard to do it, but we did it at the last minute. We wanted to put something together that would show the sort of darkness we were going for. I’d had that book in mind for a while as a preview, but we weren’t going to do it. Then Jock suddenly got free and I was like, you know what? Let’s just take the week and do it. We’re both proud of it, but the amount of time and design that’s gone into the book itself is different than the preview. It’s more of a teaser.

How does Jock’s style influence your storytelling? How much does his style free or inspire you and how do you play to his strengths?

I try to think of the things he likes to draw. Part of it is playing to his strengths and part of it is challenging him to draw things he hasn’t before. I sort of think to myself about what he might excel doing. For example, in Issue #2, there’s a scene with Sailor in a lunchroom, and she is approached by a girl. While she’s approached by the girl, she sees something scary in the background. I was thinking about it — Jock would obviously kill that scene and do a great job. But he does such creepy things when you have design elements in the scene. So, for example, what if I set the scene in a pool and it’s swim class, and all of the girls are lined up in matching bathing suits with the caps, a school uniform? I can see the way he would do that, with the dark inks and the white caps, and it would be like “Madeline,” but creepy. Something about it would be off-putting because he brings that great element to it when you give him things that allow for design. He’s so talented and he has such a great sense of how to compose a panel when there are pieces that could be seen simply but evoke an emotion. So now, the scene is set in the pool, and I like it so much better because of what I know he’ll be able to do with it.

Is there any artwork that Jock’s sent to you that’s scarier than how you’d envisioned it?

Oh, yeah. Honestly, the whole opening scene was much scarier than I’d imagined it. The design of the tree was so spooky. I’d described it, but then the claustrophobia he’s able to evoke — I try to give him a lot of room to figure out those elements. There’s also a bullying scene I mentioned earlier, between Sailor and another girl, Annie. That was so much more traumatic the way Jock drew it than I imagined. She’s so scary and big and hulking, and the angles he draws from make her menacing. I was really scared for Sailor. It’s the only scene in the book I was particularly nervous about being overboard, in how cruel Annie is, but remembering bullies and thinking about how awful they could be made me decide to keep it.

Before I let you go and I wander out of my creepy office, alone, is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d like to talk about?

Just a thank you to everybody out there that picks up the book. Doing “Batman” and “Superman” means the world to me, and I try to make those books as personal as possible. But getting to do a book like “Wytches” or “American Vampire,” where I just have complete freedom to explore my interests, whether they’re historical and fun interests, or going as dark and probing with myself like in “Wytches” — the fact that the response and the sales are where they are means the world to us. So thank you to everyone checking it out — it means so much to us.

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