Scott Snyder on his, Jock’s ‘bestial and primal’ ‘Wytches’ at Image

Jan. 15, 2014 | 8:30 a.m.
"Wytches" reunites writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock. (Image Comics)

“Wytches” reunites writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock. (Image Comics)

Don’t think witches are scary? Scott Snyder says wait until you see “Wytches.”

“We want you to be afraid to go to bed at night,” said the writer of the bestselling “Batman” at DC and the Eisner Award-winning “American Vampire” at Vertigo to the crowd Thursday at Image Expo in San Francisco  about his and artist Jock’s new horror series.

In a backstage interview, Snyder discussed creating a more “bestial and primal” breed of witches, reteaming with Jock (Mark Simpson, his collaborator on a harrowing, acclaimed epic in “Detective Comics” issues collected as “Batman: The Black Mirror”), the influence of Roald Dahl, how “Wytches” may be scarier than “American Vampire,” why this series is at Image Comics (where he did “Severed”), making up stories deep in the woods, and the why of that “y” in the title.

Hero Complex: Why do you think that witches are ripe for a remake?

Scott Snyder: There has been some good stuff, but I think for the most part lately a lot of the interpretations of witches have been romantic, the way it was with vampires when I did “American Vampire,” with “Twilight” and “Queen of the Damned.” There’s nothing wrong with those – I don’t mind them at all. I love those interpretations a lot of the time.

But my tastes, the things that I like to write about, just run much more toward what makes these mythological creatures enduringly scary. You see a lot of things about the romance of being a witch or casting spells, and looking back into the history of witches and what they were supposed to be, they’re really scary. Everything from cannibalism to Satan worship.

What I wanted to do was really re-imagine what a witch could be. Take some of the older folklore and then extrapolate and say, “Well, what if everything we know about witches – all the people that we’ve accused of being witches, that we burned, they’re just the people that knew about witches and worshiped them. And, in fact, witches themselves are much more elusive and much more bestial and primal, and they exist far out in the woods, and they’ve never really been photographed. Very few people have ever had an encounter and lived to talk about it. They have an incredible knowledge of natural science, which is why people think they can cast spells, but they can do amazing things that will really scare you to death when you see what they’re capable of. But to base it in kind of science and history and folklore, as opposed to magic. And to make something really terrifying that exists deep in the woods and preys on human flesh.”

And so in that way I started developing that idea, and I knew that it was something I would love to read for myself. That’s always my barometer: If I think it’s really scary, then it’s scary enough for me to write – and if nobody likes it, that’s OK, because I find it exciting and scary. But I really have a good feeling about this one being something that is going to be one of the better books that I’ve done, and also something that will be, I think, the scariest thing I’ve ever written. Really blackly, blackly twisted and horrific, which I’m excited about. [Laughs]

HC: Was there sort of an a-ha moment about witches, or was it just floating out there?

SS: The a-ha moment really came when I was — I had been thinking about them for a little bit — and then it really came when a friend came back from Salem. I was talking about how I had these ideas for witches, and she was talking about how she had gone and learned all about the people who were persecuted and all of this, and it just hit me – what if those aren’t the real witches? What if they’re the people protecting the witches? That really was the a-ha moment. That was just about under a year ago.

Jock's cover for "Detective Comics" No. 871, written by Scott Snyder. Their "Black Mirror" story line was called "one of the darkest, most enjoyable Gotham City sagas in recent memory" by IGN. (DC Entertainment)

Jock’s cover for “Detective Comics” No. 871, written by Scott Snyder. Their “Black Mirror” story line was called “one of the darkest, most enjoyable Gotham City sagas in recent memory” by IGN. (DC Entertainment)

I knew that Jock was the person for it. I didn’t ask anyone else to draw it. I had such a good time with him on “Detective Comics,” and I think his art is perfect for it because it’s so terrifying at times, the way he draws in this kind of way that’s destabilizing with its angles, and it’s also really scratchy and dark, and things are hidden in the panels and things pop out at you. It’s incredibly disturbing when he wants it to be. He knows exactly what nerves to hit visually on the page, to have characters extremely close and then suddenly very, very far away, almost too far to see clearly. All of those kinds of moves that he did on “Detective,” and the Joker story in [“Batman”] backups, I knew it’d make him perfect for this. So I called him up – and we’re good friends at this point, so it’s always fun to talk to him – and I was like, “What do you think about doing a book together?” And luckily, his schedule had just opened … and he was like, “Let’s do it, man.”

So we called up [Image Comics Publisher] Eric [Stephenson] and Rob Kirkman and Ron Richards and Erik Larsen, and I had talked with them a little bit about the idea [at Comic-Con International] in San Diego, and the thing that excited me about coming to Image for a book was when I spoke to them and I said, “I have a few ideas – one is like this, one is like this. What does the line need? What do you want the most? Do you have too much sci-fi, do you want something that’s more horror? Because I have ideas in these different genres.” And I still want to do them. And the great thing was they said, “Just do whatever book you feel like doing. That’s all we want is for you to be happy doing a book you’re excited about.” That made me so excited to do this one, because this one is the one that’s been eating at me a bit. I thought, “I’ll just go in there and try to do the scariest damn book I’ve ever done.” And Jock was up for it.

I feel very, very grateful, and honestly really honored to be a part of such an incredible lineup over here – and nothing disparaging against DC. For me, I couldn’t be happier over there – the way that they’ve let me tell my “Batman” story so far, it’s like writing a creator-owned book. They’ve been so supportive and encouraging and they’ve been incredible. My best friends work at Vertigo, and the way they’ve been with “American Vampire”….  And I’m committed to DC as well. I’m committed to doing “Batman” as long as I can – hopefully through about Issue 50. I have big plans for the character through about that. “American Vampire” is through about Issue 76, so there’s three more years at Vertigo with that. I’d love to do more series at Vertigo in general.

I just think the reason why I do something here and not Vertigo right now is just when you work all day with the same people all the time, I felt like it would be fun to try something that challenged me in a different way with a different group of creators at a different place where the rights function differently … the feeling is different. I need to stay vibrant. So my goal this year in 2014 is to focus on “Batman,” make it absolutely as good as I can make it; “American Vampire” – make it better than we’ve ever had it; and on the side, to do books like this and little projects that I hope will surprise people, doing one-shots that we can release free digitally…. I’m working on that right now with a couple people, actually, I don’t want to say who they are because I don’t want to give them away, but I think they’re artists people will be really excited about.

HC: When you were out onstage and said you wanted “Wytches” to be such that you would be scared to go into the woods, I wondered what the setting for this story might be.

SS: The first arc really focuses on a young family and a girl who sees her friend disappear in the woods in a really horrific way. To sort of get her away from that traumatic incident, the family moves and at the same time, she starts to think something followed her and is following her through the woods. That’s the beginning of it.

HC: Did you grow up in a wooded – no, sorry, I know you grew up in New York City.

SS: Ever since I was 5, my parents have had a weekend house in Twin Lakes, Pennsylvania. It’s near Milford. It borders on a very large swath of woods. My neighbor friend, Ryan, and me would always go back in the woods and we’d take a couple of bats. And when they found out we did this, his mother got so mad she wouldn’t let me hang out with him for a couple of weeks. In the summers, we used to take bats and hammer nails into them for protection and go out in these woods hiking. One time we actually found an old car out there by a trail – it’s still there. We would go hiking in these woods, and there was no hunting there, it was relatively safe. But the stories we made up about these creepy people that must live back there by this car, the things we would tell each other…. When you find that tiny kid fear that there’s something out there that we haven’t discovered, whether it’s at the bottom of the ocean in “The Wake” or it’s hidden in the shadows in “American Vampire” or in history like in “American Vampire” or it’s hidden somewhere that’s almost unreachable deep, deep in the woods this way, it sparks some excitement for me where I think, “Well, what if it really did? Can you make them believe it exists?”

We want you to feel that you’re afraid to lie down at night in bed for fear some big, bony arm is going to come up from under the bed and put its fingers in your mouth. We really want you to have a great time being terrified with this book.

"American Vampire" No. 28, set in the 1950s, kicked off the last arc before the series' planned hiatus. (Rafael Albuquerque / Vertigo)

“American Vampire,” Snyder’s series with artist Rafael Albuquerque, won the Eisner for best new series in 2011. This is the cover for No. 28. The series will soon return from a planned hiatus. (Vertigo)

HC: Also out there, you said “more twisted than ‘American Vampire.’”

SS: Well, to me “American Vampire” is super-twisted. It’s a horror book, but at the same time it’s also become something much more sprawling. I think it has a lot of love story to it. It’s got a lot of action. It’s got a lot of adventure. It’s got a lot of historical drama. So at heart it’s a horror book, but the characters are so dear at this point – there’s totally twisted stuff that happens. Wait till you see the first few pages of Issue 1 of Cycle 2. It’s definitely really gruesome and brutal. But deep, deep psychological terror – that’s not what that book really is about. That book is a fun horror book. And this book is meant to terrorize you in the best way, where it’s just relentlessly scary all the time.

HC: In your research into witches, was there anything that really jumped out and grabbed you by the throat?

SS: Yeah – there’s a lot. I don’t want to give away too much, only because I feel like the research itself becomes apparent pretty quickly in the stories. But everything from some of the Russian folklore and Baba Yaga and all those things, back to even earlier permutations of Satan worshipers and things like that. The witches in our story also aren’t necessarily all women either. They might be more androgynous … and actually physiologically different than you expect. So I’m very excited about that.

HC: Any witches in popular culture that made a lasting impression?

SS: When I was a kid, I was scared of the Wicked Witch of the West. I remember seeing “Wizard of Oz” and being very frightened of her. And, for me, Roald Dahl’s “The Witches,” the book itself, is one of my very favorite books. It terrified me as a kid. I still love it. I tried reading it to my son – he didn’t want to read it because it was too scary. I realized this is actually a very scary book even to an adult. He’s 7. [That book] scared me to death, and I loved it for that. Dahl’s adult stories are great too. I just started reading them again actually. There’s so many things he’s written that I really love.

HC: And for the title, you’ve gone with a pre-standardized spelling.

SS: On the one hand, I didn’t want anyone to think we were redoing Roald Dahl’s “Witches,” but on the other, Jock came up with doing something where he said, “What if we try and make it clear that this is the kind of story where we’re going to be exploring a breed of witches that’s older and scarier than anything you’ve seen?” It’s almost like what witches really are versus what we think they are. In that way, we wanted something that’s almost spooky and unfamiliar in the actual spelling and signifies it’s a more ancient iteration of the monster.

HC: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to let readers know?

SS: Just that I really appreciate them. Look, I’ve only been in comics a few years. I always wanted to be in comics. The fact that I can come over to Image and people seem so supportive already in the things they have been saying today – I really appreciate it. I would just try and say thank you. I feel like I have the best job in the world, and I promise we’re going to bring our A game to this book to make sure we really try and scare the … out of you. As a thank-you, if that makes any sense.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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