Scott Snyder is a man who needs no introduction. Over the past few years he’s become one of the most prolific writers in comics due to his work on “Batman.” But, his heart lies with horror, and now for the first time in years he’s returning to where he’s most comfortable with “Wytches.” A horrific reimagining of the age old terror, brought to horrible life by Jock and Image Comics.
The absolutely terrifying book launches tomorrow, but in advance of the book’s release we caught up with Scott to talk about the core elements that make up the horror of the book. This is a man who knows and loves the genre.
Bloody-Disgusting: There is certain rawness to “Wytches” that provokes you to read further, to test the limits of your own reason, and introspection. I find a lot of good horror stems from what the creators are most afraid of themselves, for you, it seems the quick transition from sympathy, to loss of control, to chaos?
Scott Snyder: I think in some ways each character in the story is trying to keep something under control for themselves. Something that’s either buried in their past or that they feel guilt over, something that they’re not sure was the right decision. For Charlie there’s things that he’s done, both involving his wife’s accident and in general decisions he’s made in life that he has qualms about.
He’s a character that’s built very personally from Jock and me. We put a lot of ourselves into our work, sometimes at the expense of family time. There is always a sense when you’re a father or a parent of this push and pull of you love that time you spend with your kids so much, and love them more than your capable of loving anything and then at the same time that desire to not be worried about them, to not have that sense of total concern. It’s completely out of your control.
There’s suddenly a thing walking around the world that you would die if something happened to it. That can inspire bad decisions.
Similarly, Lucy has things she feels bad about with her accident. Things she hasn’t told Charlie, and the same goes for Sailor. She’s trying to keep things under control for herself. I think the best horror at least for me, is about things spinning out of control not just in a plot way where monsters break into the house, but the things that you’re afraid those monsters represent or the things your afraid will come out about yourself under the pressure of attack from some monster eventually do. That’s when the real terror manifests itself.
BD: Speaking of that chaos, I found something in the pages of the first issue is that overwhelming first exposure to true terror as a child. Sailor has an experience that haunts her everyday, I remember my child-life descending into madness after watching Stephen King’s IT, for the first time. I slept in my parents room for a year, what is about that that you wanted to explore, and what defined terror for you as a child?
SS: The movie that did it for me, was Night of the Living Dead. I mean I had already seen a ton of horror movies at that age, I must have been twelve, there was this infamous video store near my house that wouldn’t rent to kids, but would deliver to your house if you ordered them. I had seen all kinds of slasher films I shouldn’t have. With Night of the Living Dead, I was disappointed it was black and white when it began. But, I was so unsettled by the end. It was the only movie to really give me anxiety and nightmares.
Looking back it was for much the same reason that you’re talking about with IT. There is this sense that no one is going to help you, that when everything that should go well, when you go “I’m going to stick up for myself,” and pull out this knife and say “You’re not bully me anymore!” The young couple should win, but when those things go bad and you see that sense of inescapable terror, where there is no way out, the thing that you originally saw as your salvation becomes almost doubly bad.
That is sort of the terror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the sheriff takes you back to the house you just escaped from. That sense of nightmare circularity, where there is no way out. That was definitely the feel we were going for, in that scene you mentioned and in the construction of the town, the woods, the home that they move into, and the strange way that the story begins to become more claustrophobic. There is this sense that everything they do to get away doesn’t work.
BD: It’s intensely personal and you’ve talked about comics being a singular experience, is it important that horror comics be more engrained in the characters rather than the situations?
SS: Yeah very much so. Reading a comic you wind up animating the characters and create a very personal investment. You don’t hear their voices, actors do not play them, and you still supply that life that you do when you read prose. Putting characters in emotional jeopardy is comics’ advantage over film or television.
Witches are considered a standard in the world of horror, hell, apart from Suspiria I can’t even remember the last time I found them scary before reading this book, what was it about them, in particular that you found to be the draw especially in a book you wanted to be your scariest thing yet?
BD: I love reimagining age old creatures, and you seem to be following that thread in Wytches and American Vampire, there must be a challenge to that, because can so easily be visually bankrupt characters, and conversely you can define them in whatever way you like, what’s the draw for you?
SS: The challenge is making them scary to you personally. I like doing something that hasn’t been done before. The thing that’s scary about the wytches for me, there’s a physical monstrousness that Jock has developed. When you see them they’re very striking chracters. The placement of their face and eyes, all that kind of stuff is unlike anything you’ve seen before. They don’t look like witches.
But what makes them genuinely scary is they don’t come after us, they wait for us to come to them, because we want what they have: this incredible knowledge of their own, this ancient primal science. No spells or anything, but what they’re able to do through that science is far beyond the reaches of our own modern medicine. They can cure cancer, extend your life, make you forget things, so if you want your kid healthy you can pledge someone else to them, and the wytches know they’re meant to come to them.
They’re a dark mirror to human nature, I knew this would be a reinvention that would be really exciting to write. They have a degree of emotional and psychological terror that allows us to explore the nature of the characters involved, and not to sound corny but more largely human nature.
BD: It’s a huge element to horror, and it feels like the wytches are this form of escapism, a way to regain control, a conduit to avoid dealing with what we’re most afraid of about ourselves.
SS: Very much, absolutely. They are this very scary primal force, they are these naked cannibalistic things that live in these burrows out in the woods. They’re very alien, they don’t whisper to us, they’re this really odd reflection that just waits for us in the woods to offer them someone to get what we want.
You offer someone to them because you want to escape your fate. Ultimately you owe them more than you think, and things are going to spin further out of control for you than you thought. It’s really a fun book for me.
The Wytches are so elementally scary because they are so unknown and unfamiliar. Even their eyes are designed to be these large black reflective pupils that hide in trees and look at you through holes in trees. They have no sympathy and no mercy, they give you what you want to get what they want.
BD: Is there an element of sexuality to them and the idea of pledging?
SS: Not really, no. I wanted to move away from a more gendered design for them. There has been a gendered stigma attached to witches, it felt odd to make monsters that were specifically women. There are very androgynous, when you see the design I think that makes them doubly scary. They are unfamiliar, asexual, and predatory. So in that regard you don’t even know how they reproduce. We know, we have a whole guide, but everything they do is part of the mystery.
It’s really more of a pledge because they have a very particular process of eating you.
BD: In it’s most chaotic moments, JOCK’s style becomes loose and energetic, it’s unpredictable, and part of the terror, how tight we’re your scripts, and how much do you dictate what’s on the page?
SS: The scripts were really tight, actually. I write other books a lot more loosely. Greg enjoys the latitude on “Batman.” An action sequence is described in a paragraph or two that lays out the major beats and I’ll let him go for a few pages. Jock enjoys having a map, so that makes these scripts much more robust. All of the dialogue is pretty much where it is, but he knows from working on “Detective Comics” together, that I’ll have a note at the beginning of my scripts, at this point out of habit, that he is encouraged to change anything at all to be more effective storytelling.
For example in issue #2 there’s a scene where Charlie is fixing the chair along the stairs while talking to his friend Reg. It’s the electric chair for Lucy to carry her up. In the end the chair starts working despite Charlie not being able to get it to work, and Jock did this great sequence where his friend and him are sitting on it while it starts to move. He let it go on, to the point where they rise up out of the panel, where they’re feet rise out with this witchy quality like floating on a broom.
He always adds something else that isn’t in the script, but I love it. That’s what makes writing for him, and playing to his strengths so enjoyable. There’s another scene in issue #2 that takes place in a cafeteria, the cafeteria would have been great for Sean because he loves all the world building with the characters in the background. Jock is more atmospheric; I thought that would be more constrictive, so I set it in swim class, in a swimming pool.
To see what he’s doing with it, with the crazy blues and the reflections of the light, so I try to do things that reflect the artist that I’m with but it doesn’t change the meaning of the scene whatsoever. I give Jock full scripts and them come back then times better.
Matt, the colorist, oh my God. His style is genius, he tells a real story through color. The scenes that are violent get pixelated and painterly, as opposed to the scenes that are quiet and calm.
BD: I saw a lot of Argento lighting in Matt’s color, it felt odd and otherworldly, like much of Susperia, was that part of your design or Matt’s happy accident?
SS: For the back matter for issue #1, we’re including that color pallet. We want to show how much work goes into the coloring process. He’s really an integral part of the team. Coloring is such an important part of comics that is often neglected. He’s the third part of the team.
Colorists contribute so much to these books. Matt has a real primal emotionality to the color, that tells a story. I dictate the feel of it. For this we wanted the creepiest progression of color he could think of, but with Charlie we wanted this sense of tenderness. I try and dictate the feel of it, but I avoid the technical aspects of what they do. For me, I never would have thought of it the way it usually comes out, but it always looks so much better because I let Matt do his thing.
BD: Charlie’s got a real tough choice to make, if this comes down to his pledge. Between Lucy and Sailor, he’s dealing with a lot of problems he can’t fix, what’s in store for Charlie, and how is he going to make this choice?
SS: There’s a lot of terrible choices Charlie is going to have to make, and a lot of terrible reflection he has to deal with. In issue #2 you start to see that he may have been responsible for some of this. Part of the mystery of the book is what happened, why are these wytches after him? Who pledged Sailor?
As soon as you start meeting people in town, you’ll start to wonder, part of the fun of the book is to trying to figure out who made them the target.
This is pure black psychological and emotional terror. This to me, is getting back to my roots, and where I’m most comfortable. I can’t watch anything where a kid is getting hurt upsets me too much, but I can write it all day.
Wytches #1 hits tomorrow from Image Comics.