Scott Snyder talks about writing horror in Wytches
What kind of evil lurks in the woods? And what if it’s connected to our biggest fears? That’s an idea Scott Snyder (Batman) explores in Wytches, the horror comic that became a breakout book of 2015. With art by co-creator Jock (Batman, Snapshot) and Matt Hollingsworth (Hawkeye), Snyder weaves a complex, supernatural story about the Rooks family (father Charlie, mother Lucy, and daughter Sailor), who move to a new town that has its own dark secrets. But the creator is the first to admit he never thought the comic would take off at all, let alone become one of Image’s top selling series.
“I remember when I told Jock I wanted to do a book with him, with the caveat of, ‘this is a small project so if you don’t want to do it I completely understand, in case someone comes to you with a more commercial idea or a bigger, inviting premise,’” Snyder explained to EW. “We always knew that it was something that was intimately scary, and we knew it was going to be confessional, and it was going to be ugly and brutal. And to me, so many of the books that were doing so well at Image when we pitched this one were brighter and more inclusive and more world-building in a sort of colorful, irreverent way — like Saga, and Wicked and the Divine, and Sex Criminals — and just sort of…really nothing grim.” According to Snyder, seeing the book stick with people after the first few issues was eye-opening in more ways than one. “The fact it was received so well and did as well as it did was extremely inspiring to all of us,” he admitted. “Not just for the purposes for the book itself, but just with regards to the industry. Just seeing that you do something that you’re passionate about, whether it’s something you do that’s zany or autobiographical, all they [fans] want is for you to bring a level of passion to the project, and they will follow you there.”
That level of passion is something that Snyder worked hard to bring to the pages of his comic, writing from many of his personal experiences, including those that came with the journey of becoming a parent. “At first it made [writing] harder just because there was a certain trepidation on my part about going as dark as I think we ended up going, plot-wise, but also more importantly, going as dark emotionally with Charlie,” he shared. “For me, he is really struggling or really has struggled with the terrors and wonders of parenting and being someone who is trying to make something of himself, which requires a lot of mythic self-centered kind of thinking.”
Snyder said that once fans started writing in about their own stories, his fears about the book being too dark or too intense were relatively soothed. “It was one of those things that made it very easy to write after the first issue, when the letters started coming in for the back matter,” he said. “There were four really big letters we got. One was being a parent and ‘let me tell you my story because I feel that way too,’ or, ‘I’m a kid, and I feel like Sailor because I’ve struggled with depression or feel bullied.’ Those were extremely moving. And then there was the, ‘I want to tell you ghost stories,’ and then there were always the, ‘can I sneak in the question about Batman?’ No, you can’t, but I appreciate your readership!”
Part of the reason Wytches has made such an impact is that it deals with our fears in a way that is relatable: by asking the question of what keeps us up at night? So what keeps Snyder up at night?
“There’s things I worry about a lot for my kids,” he revealed. “I worry about violence, I worry about random violence. One of the things I wrote about in one of the back matters was they have drills in my kid’s school for shooters now, where they have a lockdown. And he’s in second grade, and they do this all the time. You worry about resource breakdown, that end zero year where everything suddenly falls apart and you just see a world with suddenly no governance. For me, there’s a way of picking things that are sort of very frightening, and finding ways to work them into a story.”
Whether it’s Wytches or Batman, according to Snyder, there’s always an effort to bring as much of a personal vibe as he can to the pages of his work. But while a writer can craft a good story, it doesn’t make an impact if the art doesn’t resonate — and thankfully, Jock’s pages do their job.
“He was the first artist who really took a chance on me,” Snyder said. “I went to him when I was nobody — I had a couple of detective comics out and I asked him to do a year-long detective comic story with me, and commit for a year. I met him in San Diego and I remember my whole goal was to convince him to do this with me.” For a story like Wytches, there’s a specific type of style that needs to complement the writer’s words, and, as Snyder explained, it’s a perfect fit for Jock. “There’s a realism to his art where it feels like when he draws Batman or he draws the Rook family, they’re walking in the world we know — it’s not exaggerated,” he said. “And yet there’s a discomfort when he wants to bring suspense or when he wants to bring dread, where things are just tilted a little too much, and there’s just a little too much shadow. He’s just a master of moods that way. And then when he explodes — when he does monsters — he’s so good and he brings all that film experience with him for that, all the concept art stuff. He’s the best guy when it comes to depicting something that you want to be believable and real and grimy, but creeping towards something nightmarish and fantastic.”
While the first trade paperback collection will go on sale this week, readers will have to wait until the fall for the Rooks family’s newest adventures. “The second arc really focuses on Sailor, now that she has met up already with the group that hunts witches around the world,” Snyder revealed. “She’s become a part of them. She’s almost like a member of that group, and has gone around and found burrows all over the country with other people who have escaped and pledged.”
Look for the scenery of Wytches to change as well, as the second installment “largely takes place out in the southwest in the desert with no trees, which is kind of fun because the opening, the preview for it, has her looking out over the desert and being relieved there are no trees. And all of a sudden, a hand comes out of the sand and grabs her ankle. So it deals with a new breed of witches down there, too.”
Snyder plans to dig into the mythology over the next few issues, going deeper and revealing more secrets. “This is the arc where, as Sailor learns, you’ll learn the history of witches. You’ll learn the history of the group that hunts them, you’ll learn the geography of their presence all over the country,” he said. “And in the first arc, Charlie was a little more of the protagonist and it was more of Sailor’s origin story. And it was about kind of the wonders and terrors of parenting. This one is largely about growing up. This is about the fear you have when you reach an age where you have to start letting go of your parents and your childhood for certain reasons, whether it’s because your parents are getting older or if you’re adolescent, you’re finding yourself for different reasons. There’s a lot to explore there, especially when Sailor realizes there might be a way that the witches keep people they’ve punished.”
The first trade of Wytches, collecting issues 1-5, arrives in comic shops June 24, and you can read the entire first issue right here on EW.com.