For the past three plus years, Scott Snyder has been writing one of comics’ darkest heroes with aplomb and acclaim in Detective Comics and Batman, and now he’s looking to go into the dark once again and make a certain childhood fairy tale scary again. Pairing with the artist known as Jock, Snyder is launching a new creator-owned series at Image titled Wytches that promises “childhood nightmares come to life” beginning in October.
Snyder is no stranger to horror, as it was his collection of horror short stories Voodoo Heart which earned him the attention of Marvel and DC. The New York-based writer parlayed that into his first major comic series, the still ongoing American Vampire series at Vertigo, and he’s been using shades of horror in a variety of his superhero work such as in Batman and The Wake as well as in the Superman Unchained series.
Snyder tells Newsarama that Wytches seeks to redefine the mythology of witches in fiction, taking them from being pigeon-holed as the villains of childhood fairy tales and back into the horrific “other” hiding in the woods that has the power to both cure and kill.
Newsarama: Scott, what can you tell us about Wytches?
Scott Snyder: For me, it’s definitely the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It’s been a blast getting back to my horror roots with this.
Wytchescenters on a family: the Rooks; a mother, father, and a teenage daughter. The daughter, without giving too much away, has an experience outside in the woods near her home that terrifies her and stigmatizes her. So the Rooks move back to where the wife is from, but this sort of terrible thing happens there that starts to follow her. Plot wise, that’s the general introduction.
This is about, for me, trying to reimagine the idea of witches; to reimagine this classic monster as something different and scarier than we’ve ever seen before. The idea came to me while I was away on vacation, at this little house in Milford, Pennsylvania that my family has been going to for decades; in fact, my family is going there again this weekend. When I was walking in a woodsy area near the house beside a lake, the wind blew and the trees kind of swayed in a way that a tree peeked out and almost looked like a skeletal 8 or 9 foot tall figure popping out from the trees. It gave me the idea of using this figure of the witch, which I always loved from Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That and the more folkloric idea of witches as Satan worshippers kind of informed what we’re doing here with Wytches. But that experience in Milford gave me the first visual element of the book, the “don’t go into the trees” vibe.
For Jock and I, it’s about creating a new mythology; taking the idea of witches and creating these primal, beastial, animalistic creatures that no one lives to talk about. All of the humans that have been persecuted in history as being witches were really just our witches’ acolytes. That’s the trick of Wytches; they’re always out there waiting.
If you give our witches what they want, they’ll give you want you want; not through magic, but natural science, tinctures, and the sort. They can cure things modern medicine can’t, but what you give up to get those cures is the hard part.
Nrama: When will readers meet you’re their first true witch in this series?
Snyder: You’ll meet them in the first issue; at least in glimpses. You won’t see their full design, in terms of seeing them in full sunlight, for a couple of issues. You will, however, get a sense early on of how big they are and their core elements.
Nrama: This is the latest in a string of horror stories for you – so what keeps drawing you back to horror and fear?
Snyder: It’s hard to say; I always gravitate towards these stories. As a kid I rented out the whole horror section from the video store. I don’t know what it was that sparked that.
The reason I love writing horror is that in good horror you end up facing off against your own fears about yourself. Whether it’s finding your family dog has gone rabid, your own father is a maniac and trying to kill you, or whatever, good horror brings up childhood fears. Nothing is safe; you can’t trust anything. These kinds of things represent safety, and we turn them into murderous monsters. In things like Night of the Living Dead, The Shining or Kujo for example, the pressure under which the characters end up with reveals a monster or sorts in their own personality. Those are the horror stories that are most captivating to me, even when it’s not pure horror.
In my Superman Unchained series, I hope people can see elements of horror. It’s not horrific, and there’s not monsters, but there’s a deep down psychological terror I go for when writing that I hope comes across. I love it when a character faces off against a villain who outlines what makes them weak and offers to show them just how weak they are.
Nrama: Witches are well-known as an idea in fiction, but to most people they’re less in the “horror” field and more in the fairy tale supernatural. What do you say to that, and what you’re doing here?
Snyder: As I said earlier, I’ve always loved Dahl’s The Witches, as well as the witches from Hansel & Gretel. But when you see things like Charmed and all these kinds of witches in Young-Adult stories with the glamour, exoticism and magic to them, it kind of dulls it. Even stories of wizardry carries the same DNA, I think, as the core myth of witches. That sense of them being magic users is an exciting narrative direction; it’s akin to American Vampire, where there’s this idea out there of vampires being romantic and approachable. Those kinds of vampires, and the earlier idea of witches, can make for terrific stories… but not my kind of stories.
What I’m most interested in is exploring what’s enduringly scary about these iconic figures. That’s why I think vampires and witches last; there’s this core iteration that’s not about romance, or being appealing or charming; it’s about being powerful and scary. That’s what makes them both last.
For me, what makes witches profoundly scary is that they live in the woods, eat children, and have abilities beyond our knowledge. In Wytches, it’s about making them scary – not just for children, but adults as well. We make it to feel infantilized around them; they’re so tall, skeletal, scary and odd; they’re childhood nightmares come to life. That’s the starting point for the visual designs; you go back to see what makes them scary at their core, then expand on that.
Nrama: When people hear witches, they mostly think of magic. Your vampire stories in American Vampire have been rooted in science, but will Wytches go into the more unexplainable world of magic?
Snyder: There’s no magic. This is a very gritty view of witches. The things they are capable of doing is terrifying. As you saw in the preview released a few weeks ago, they can sprinkle something in your food and immediately paralyze you – but they could also cure cancer. They could put something on your doorstep that would dissolve your flesh, as well. Showing all these different sorts of capabilities through their own brand of ancient, natural science. These witches could offer you the change to live 50 years longer than you’re supposed to; maybe even stop you from aging. But at the same time, I don’t want to go past the elasticity of science and go into magic.
Nrama: You mentioned elaborating and expanding on the mythology of witches in this series.
Snyder: Very much so. In this first arc you’ll begin to see the history of witches and glimpses of how long they’ve been around and the sort of mythology that is behind them. In other arcs, Jock and I have talked about going into different eras in addition to the present day. We could explore historical events, and families from different times. The book is structured in a way to give us room for five to six issue story arcs, then take a few months off; the Saga model.
Nrama: And there are today people who refer to themselves as witches, not in an evil sense, but as a part of their religion such as Wicca. What would you say to people who are self-described witches who read about this comic?
Snyder: I don’t know… they probably won’t like this comic. I would apologize, but honestly Wytches is not a representation of the Wiccan religion; it’s a horror book. Deep down what it’s meant to do is imagine these creatures in the woods, and the people that worship them, not as Wiccan but just really bad people. The people we’ve created have no real relation in my mind to any real religions. Any religion or practice that people enjoy that doesn’t hurt anyone, I’m a fan of. I apologize if Wytches casts a shadow on anyone’s beliefs.
Nrama: For the title of this, you’re using Wytches with a “y”. Why’d you go with that non-standard spelling?
Snyder: I was talking to Jock and we had a couple ideas as far as indicating these witches were really old and different from anything before. We thought the “y” make give these witches a lack of familiarity for readers, and give the air of disturbing or strangeness and cut to the core of what the book is about. We’re taking something familiar in pop culture and attempting to do something very different from what you’ve seen.
Nrama:Wytches finds you working once again with Jock, years after you and him had a great partnership with Detective Comics’ “The Black Mirror” arc. What brought you to his doorstep for this story?
Snyder: I knew he would be perfect. I didn’t ask anyone else for this story in the same way I didn’t ask for anyone else besides Sean Murphy for The Wake. For that, I waited two to three years to do that book with Sean. With Jock and Wytches, I would have waited as long as I needed to for it to happen. Jock’s style for me is perfect in being both very emotionally evocative in intimate scenes such as the ones here between a father and a daughter, but then also being able to deliver incredibly disturbing moments. His angles, his scratchiness, the dark inks, the destabilized angles and the slight angularity to people’s faces give off something unique; it feels like something is going to go wrong for him, and that’s a perfect match for Wytches. Jock hits right in the sweet spot of this book; nobody is capable of doing scarier moments of terror and at the same time be so good when it comes to the really important quiet intimate moments of characters.
Matthew Hollingsworth is joining us here on Wytches, and after coloring The Wake and Hawkeye he’s done some great stuff. He is bringing an interesting pallette to Wytches, and is a great story contributor as well. He’s bringing out elements of the story through color; I love how the book changes hues through the book. The narrativeness moves from one color to the next, making it so you can follow the story even if you unfocus your eyes to see just the color. I’m incredibly honored to work on this book, and I think it’s the best thing any of us have done.