I read the first three issues of writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock’s creator owned work, Wytches from Image, all in one gulp last week, just before I went to bed.
I ended up with a nightmare obviously inspired by the horror series, a disjointed dream where I was convinced I’d never be able to escape the evil woods.
That’s what a haunting story Wytches is, with its quick cuts between scenes and time jumps that, combined with the splattered look of its panels developed by colorist Matt Hollingsworth, produce disorientation and terror.
In the first three issues of Wytches, a family moves to a new town for a fresh start for their teenage daughter, who had an unnamed (at first) horrible experience at her last school. The father is a comic book creator, and the mother has recently been in a car accident that paralyzed her, an incident that later seems connected to what begins to haunt them.
Or, more accurately, what has haunted them all along. Because the witches of the title seem after this family, and it’s yet to be revealed why except it has a very human origin.
I interviewed Snyder about the series last week. He said, to him, witches are the scariest of the monsters. The concept for this story was inspired by his walks in the woods in Pennsylvania as a boy, when he and a friend would make up stories about the monsters that lived in the woods.
“They’re out there, waiting for us, and it’s far scarier for us to come to them for something than for them to come after us. They’re emblematic of the darkest part of human nature because they can’t act unless you ask them too.” The wytches of this story, he said, provide “unnatural sorts of shortcuts to your deepest desires.”
And, in some way, the family in question has been pledged to the wytches. With the quick jumps and the dreamlike quality of the panels, reading the story sometimes feels as if the reader is inside the nightmare with the characters.
“We wanted every panel to feel completely unsettling. We used weird angles and odd close-ups to create an ominous sense of dread that permeates the comic,” Snyder said. “The idea of the quick cuts is to destabilize the readers so they never know what will happen on the next page. We wanted to play on the intimate connection the reader has with this world and the characters and so when they lose their bearings, the reader does too. You [the reader] understand where you are but you’re not entirely settled.”
It’s a fine line between being nightmarish and confusing but the series walks it well, though the reader has to pay close attention to the cuts that go back and forth in time, such as a sequence in which a deer wanders into the house and collapses and dies, one that initially seemed like a dream but instead became clear was a real event.
The same goes for what seems to be an eye that’s been planted in the neck of Sailor, the teenager daughter. Sailor perceives it to be an eye, but it’s actually a poison that compels her to go to the wytches in the woods, Snyder said.
Snyder and Jock have already worked together on the acclaimed Batman story, The Black Mirror, a story that first catapulted Snyder to superstar status at DC Comics. I asked Snyder how collaborative the process is between them for Wytches.
“I plot walk Jock through the story and find out what he prefers to draw among the ideas for the scene. Then I draw the outline of the pages, do the pacing work, if it feels lopsided. By the time I’m typing the script, I know where I’m going.”
Snyder, who started as a writer of prose novels, said while he sometimes misses the complete control a writer has with their own novel, he loves the collaborative aspect of comics. “They’re partners and friends and I’m really proud to work with them.” It was Hollingsworth who came up with the splatter pattern and color palette of certain scenes to make them even more nightmarish.
Snyder said the team has a six issue arc planned for this first story, and the second arc will focus on witch hunters. As in his Vertigo series, American Vampire, the team is building a mythology.
“It’s meaner and smaller than in American Vampire, but we wanted to flip some of the traditional witch hunter elements. For instance, it turns out the people hanged and burned as witches weren’t witches, they were witch hunters, and the people who killed them were the actual witches.”
If the sales for the series remain as strong as they’ve been, (Wytches #1 sold over 90,000 copies) Snyder and Jock will be able to create all the mythology for the wytches that they want.
Wytches #4 will be released on January 1st. The first three issues are available at your local comic shop or at Comixology.com.