Wytches, the Image comic from writer Scott Snyder, is filled with strange and unsettling surprises, but perhaps the most unexpected turn of event in the comic is just how popular it is.
The comic, which reunites Snyder with artist Jock and colorist Matt Hollingsworth, has been among the list of best-selling comics each month since it launched in October. A terrifying and disturbing twist on the idea of witches, the comic follows a teen girl named Sailor and her family as they are targeted by the eerie, mysterious creatures that lurk in the woods.
As Wytches #4 is released this week, Newsarama talked to Snyder about the themes he's exploring, why he thinks of the groundbreaking sales indicate a changing audience for comics, and what readers can expect from this week's issue.
Newsarama: Scott, I'm going to admit that I was surprised by the sales numbers you've been sustaining for Wytches.
Scott Snyder: I'm stunned. I'm totally stunned. It did so much better than any of us expected, and it still is. And what I'd say — aside from just thanking everybody that ever picked it up for just reading the book — is thank you for changing our perception of the readership itself.
I have a new understanding of the readership — they don't care what genre the book is going to be in, what length it is, what structure it is, what tone it is, any of that. What they care about is that you're a creator who's going out on a limb to try something you're clearly passionate about. And they come to Image, I think a lot, to see passion projects.
That's almost the genre or the stamp of Image. You go there to do a book that you clearly want to do, that isn't a cash grab, that isn't conventional. They're books that are personal and defiant and risky.
And the fact that the audience has been so supportive of this book not only makes me extremely grateful for the fact that they're reading a book that I care a lot about, but it just makes me grateful for how it opened my eyes to how incredibly vibrant and different the audience is than it was 10 years ago.
I would say to you guys — you're changing comics! You're changing the way creators perceive the industry, the way publishers perceive the industry, and it's just fantastic. It really is the best time, I think, in comics in a long, long time.
Nrama: Speaking of changing perceptions — talk to me about what you're doing with the wytches. We haven't seen much of them so far, but what we've seen is very different from the sort of traditional view of what a witch is. And it seems to play with this idea of body deformity, which I think is kind of echoed in what we saw with Clara's breast, and the stuff on Charlie's stomach.
Snyder: Yeah, I think the idea is to make a twisted reflection of us in the wytches. The wytches themselves, you'll see in this issue, in #4, you'll get a pretty clear view of a lot of them at one point — or a couple of them at least. You go down into the burrow in issue #4, with Sailor.
They're nine feet tall, and they're androgynous. Some of them possess two sets of genitals. And some seem to have nothing, almost.
They have their faces on the sides of their heads. Their skulls actually have eyeholes to the side of the nose hole and the mouth. So part of the face is forward — the teeth and the mouth — and the nose is almost forward, and the eyes are actually on the left or right side of the head, so they can peek around trees at you, you know, and find you.
So they have a very specific design that's meant to be sort of human, but at the same time, almost like a funhouse mirror reflection of us, in this very unsettling way.
The idea of Clara and what she does to Charlie… it's sort of this body horror. I think of Sailor finding an eye on her neck in issue #2, which isn't really there, and the idea of the bodies dissolving in trees, and the sense of being cooked alive — you'll see more of that as the story goes forward.
But a lot of the story has to do with this idea of taking elements of the body that you don't expect to find horror in and then turning them scary. To me, that's at the core of what the best horror is — it takes things we find safe, or that you don't find anything scary about, and makes those things terrifying. Like Stephen King, where he takes the family dog and turns it terrifying, or the car that you take refuge in as a teenager and turns it terrifying. That sense of your town going bad.
So the body, for me, is like that. And someone that's motherly turning violent on you. The idea of the parts of the body that you find most sensitive, most vulnerable, suddenly being either attacked or attacking you. Those things are very powerful, I think, as elements of horror — if they're done respectfully and well.
The idea of things invading the body, or the body turning strange — it's a big part of classic horror and monster stories, the idea that you can't control what's happening to you and you're becoming a monster, or somebody's putting something in you and turning you into something or making your body do something you don't want it to do.
A lot of what Wytches is about is that kind of unsettling horror.
And the reason I wanted to do that scene with Clara where she takes soothing from her own breasts and stabs him with it, is this sense of witchery and witchcraft, in the way we're using it. We're trying to keep it sort of scientific — it's not spells and dust and magic. It's bodily chemicals and ground up bones and boiled tissue and stuff that you don't want to know is in things, that they put together and grind together to make these medicines that can do amazing things.
Nrama: You're also playing with the idea of secrets within a family, right? I mean, it appears that Sailor is pledged, and there's some secret in this family that relates to that. Is that one of the themes you've got going here, is the unknown within even your own family?
Snyder: Oh yeah, 100 percent. I mean, this issue #4 just completely opens that can of worms up, where you see how dark things got at one point for Charlie, where he really was going through a very hard time with the idea of being a father again, and the weight of it, and he lashed out an acted very badly toward Sailor and Lucy and a lot of people.
It's a very personal story for me. There are parts of it, like that, that I'm sure, when I was writing it, I was like, nobody's going to read this book. It's just a personal sort of horror book. But people have been incredibly supportive of that sort of material that's already been in the book, and then the stuff that's coming. I'm very grateful that fans have been so responsive.
In this issue, I actually wrote an essay at the end, about why I love horror, and a lot of it has to do with how horror can help you get through period like that — periods of depression, periods of anxiety, periods of rage, when you really are at your worst. For me, horror is something that helps. And this is the kind of book that goes directly into the ugly things we don't want to admit we feel and say and do behind each other backs or privately, when we're alone, because that's what the wytches prey on.
The wytches, at the end of the day, they're waiting for you to come to them and ask for something you're not supposed to have. And what you do is you give them someone and they give you what you're want. So it's built into the premise of every arc. It's deeply about the things we don't want to admit that we really want.
Nrama: The comic is really showcasing your love of horror. It feels like you're specifically structuring the story in way that, I don't know, lends itself to suspense?
Snyder: Yeah, I'm trying to do something that speaks to my favorite kind of horror, where it has this kind of slow-building dread and sense of paranoia — the sense of inescapable doom. I always loved The Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, with that sense of not just a monster preying on you and popping out, but that terrible sense that the things you trust, the places you find safe, the tropes you think are going to win out — all of that stuff turn blacker and blacker, little by little. There's this ominous sense that everything is going to become dire.
Nrama: Is that different from horror you've done in the past?
Snyder: Yeah, in a sense, because I want it to be unsettling in a different way.
For example, in issue #4, you'll see this sequence with the woman who's been kind of haunting the edge of the story, named Clara, with the two peg legs. She's this creepy figure who's been moving around the edges of the narrative. And in this one, she really comes in, and you realize she has a long history with the wytches. She's there to hunt them down, and she tells Charlie the terrible truth about what they are and why they're after his daughter.
In that kind of sequence, usually I'd go for the big, sort of horrific scare, or the action sequence in the background. That's the sort of thing you do in superhero comics, where you have, say, Joker and Batman fighting as they have that kind of conversation, or Batman's in some kind of death trap.
But in this book, I can have them talking, and she hands him a noose, and she says, "Hang that up, will you please?"
And you don't know why she's asking him to do it. And it's this sense of mystery and dread. Why is she asking him to do that? Is it for him? Is it for her? You know? What is it that's going on here.
It's that disorienting sense of unfamiliarity, of being in a nightmare, almost, where the thing you think you understand slowly become dismantled, little by little, and you get the sense that you're never on stable ground.
So that's where we're coming from on this, Jock and me and Matt — art-wise, color-wise, we want to always be unsettling and a little off-kilter.
Nrama: And you can see that in the art, not only in these splatters and colors, but even in the way the angles are off-kilter.
Snyder: Yeah, yeah. When we started, we tested out a lot of different things. And when we do a trade, I think we'll put them in the book, where Jock tried a style that was a little more conventional, in terms of its angles, its shadows. It's still Jock, but it's a little less de-stabilizing.
But Matt thought we should be more experimental, and we thought we'd go for a feeling that you're not quite sure what's real — of busting through the membrane of reality from some darker place. And the splatter effect was something he came up with, and he'd never done it before.
The book is something where each of us is bringing something new, different from our own work in the past. There's no book I've written that's like this before, and Jock hasn't done this sort of horror before, and like I said, for Matt, this is a new style for him. And we're really proud of that idea, that we've gone into this and done something that is, for the three of us, experimental.