"What they want is flesh—they eat human flesh."
That's comic book writer Scott Snyder, talking gleefully about the eponymous monsters in his new comic book series out today, Wytches. For those unfamiliar with Snyder's ever-growing body of work, he's both a mainstay at DC (his work on Batman and Superman Unchained has been near-universally praised), as well as a constant fixture of the creator-owned comics world, with books like American Vampire and the rule-breaking, genre-twisting 10 issue series The Wake—a personal favorite of mine.
Snyder has tackled horror before, but Wytches sets out to be an entirely new level of scary. Aside from the fact that the monsters in the book are terrifying (artist Jock has done an amazing job realizing the creatures), Snyder's vision of witchcraft is as much about the deepest fears parents face as it is about spooky monsters in the woods. "It's very personal. It's about the selfishness that comes with being a parent," he tells me.
I caught up with Snyder to chat about the story behind the comic, moving from Vertigo to Image, and his favorite horror films as a child. Speaking of which, if you haven't seen Night of the Living Dead, there are spoilers below—not that you have an excuse.
Let's talk about the genesis of Wytches. Where did your initial inspiration come from?
For me, there isn't any bigger thrill than reimagining classic monsters. I loved giving it a shot with American Vampire. And then, with The Wake, a lot of the genesis there had to do with The Creature From the Black Lagoon. So here, it seems like a natural fit. But the story really came from a series of experiences I had as a kid. My folks have a place in Pennsylvania, up in the Poconos—they've had it since I was about five. I remember when they got it, because I was terrified. I thought Pennsylvania and Transylvania were the same thing and I was convinced that vampires were everywhere out there. When I was a kid, I used to go walking in the woods with our neighbor who was my age, this boy Ryan. We used to make up all sorts of stories about this evil family that lived out in the woods that sacrifice animals, that they were Satan worshipers and all this kind of stuff. We were fascinated by witchcraft and witchery and Satanism and a sense of this evil lurking out there. So, it's something sort of been there in the back of my mind for a long time.
Have you been back since?
In the last couple years, I started taking my kids there. I was telling my son about some of the stuff we have found in the woods. One of the things that Ryan and I found was this car from the '40s. I guess there was a smuggler's airport nearby, back in the bootlegging days. So there was some kind of airstrip deep in the woods that was all overgrown, so we didn’t recognize it as an airstrip. But, there was also an abandoned car just in the middle of nowhere. I took some pictures of it that I posted on Twitter not long ago. He was asking about it and I wanted to take a walk down there to see if it was still there. Just this notion, I guess, of if there could be something waiting from childhood all this time still out there in the woods. Whether it was sort of an evil family, or a monster, but a sense of evil that will wait for you, for 25 years—just kind of be out there waiting for you to come to it. That happened about a little over a year ago, and that's when I start thinking about it in those terms, so that was sort of the genesis of the idea.
You did Severed with Image a while back, but have been working with Vertigo since. Why did you decide to go back to Image for Wytches?
I love working at Vertigo and I had a great experience there on The Wake, but part of the compass you have to keep is continuing to challenge yourself or try things you haven’t before. The idea of actually producing a comic and putting it together yourself—there is a certain thrill and element [that] you suddenly have control over, that you don’t [have] when there is an infrastructure there. The infrastructure [of Vertigo] is great editorially and publicity wise. But, some of the things you get to do with the book at Image—there are different sorts of challenges as to how you actually construct the book in a literal way, and how you market it you have a little bit more control over.
So with this book, Jock and I had talked about doing it for a while. There wasn't anybody else I’d ever consider doing it with. So, we were sort of just waiting to be free together. We visited the idea of doing it at Vertigo, and there are people there that we worked with for a long time that we love. But what it boiled down to is, it seem important to us to have a book that we would own together as friends and partners from the get go. Also, we wanted to try something that we hadn't before. I think we both were really comfortable at Vertigo, so to try things that were a little bit more challenging in that regard, or a little bit more unfamiliar, was more exciting to both of us.
How close were Jock's final images of the wytches to what you first envisioned for the book?
The idea was to keep them pretty alien. We wanted them to be something that didn’t look at all like the witches you’d expect, especially not these kind, of you know, female sorceress sort of figures. We wanted them to be bestial, predatory, and androgynous. And very, very tall and
We wanted them to be bestial, predatory, and androgynous.
skeletal, so that they can hide behind some of the thinnest trees and peek out from behind them. So those were sort of the initial elements that we had. And then Jock came up with the design for their faces, how distorted they look. To me, it's some of the scariest work Jock has done. I don’t want to give it away, but it has a functional aspect. Their faces are structured in a way that makes them better hunters. The fact that they have a utility—the facial design—makes it even spookier.
Do you have an endgame in mind yet? Are you planning past the first 5-issue arc?
I have a second arc in mind that involves a couple of the characters from this arc. I don't want to say which ones make it out alive and which ones go down in flames, but there will be a couple of reoccurring characters, both good and bad, that will make it to the second arc. I have a very, very loose idea for a third arc, too. I try to plan it out that far ahead. This arc is very set in my mind and the next arc is pretty planned. I know what’s going to happen generally, and I can change it based on how the second one really ends up going.
How much are you thinking about your relationship with your own kids when you’re writing the father character? I'm mostly asking because he's also a comic book artist.
A lot. That was the challenge with going as scary as possible. And by scary, I mean going to a place that is really terrifying for yourself as a writer. For me, the book is largely about the terror, the wonder, the guilt and frustration, the ecstatic happiness that comes with being a parent. What the wytches really are, is [these] ancient creatures that are waiting out there for you to get them what they want, instead of what you want. They have this incredible
For me, the book is largely about the terror, the wonder, the guilt and frustration, the ecstatic happiness that comes with being a parent.
knowledge and natural science, and they can create mixtures of things that cure all sorts of illness that modern medicine can’t to extend your life, make you smarter—all sorts of things like that. Their favorite thing is children, but they will take anyone you pledge to them. The idea is who would you give to get what you want? What would you sacrifice to save your child? What would you give to these evil things to make sure that the people you love are safe? There's this incredible power from your bond with your kid, and the fact that you would do things for them that are almost, in a sense, equably impossible to imagine doing in any other respect. Once I knew that’s what the monsters were, I knew I had a special series on my hands.
For me, that’s the horror I enjoy the most. The monsters are always scary visually, but ultimately what's scary is the pressure they put on the human characters in the narrative to act the ways they’re afraid they might act. Take something like Stephen King's Pet Sematary. When you have that cemetery out there—the love you have for your wife, for your kid, or the fear of death, the fear of loss—the feelings or actions that monster engenders are what I hope to aspire to.
I definitely think that's at the core of the best horror. It’s like George Romero's zombie movies. Of course they have zombies, but they're so scary because they are about people making terrible decisions under pressure.
Night of the Living Dead is my absolute favorite movie of all time! I swear to god, I had seen all of these slasher movies already. I was probably 13. I knew this video store near us in NY, it was call the Video Stop. It was on 26th and 3rd. They wouldn’t rent R-rated movies to kids, but they would deliver them if you ordered them over the phone. All of the kids in the neighborhood knew this trick and we would rent Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sleepaway Camp II, Pumpkinhead. Every scary thing you can imagine, we saw. And then one day we got Night of the Living Dead. It was bottom of the barrel, because it was black and white. But then I saw it and it was literally the only movie that gave me reoccurring nightmares and caused me anxiety. I couldn’t figure it out at the time, but looking back now the reason it has become my favorite movie is because I think of it as a really pure form of horror. Not only does nobody escape—the young couple, the hero or the heroine—none of them make it out—but the scariest thing is how they act towards each other. The desperation they feel and the terrible things they do. The inescapability of their own mistakes— that’s what terrifying about it. I hope that Wytches has some of that in it.
Part of what I loved about The Wake was the tonal shift, from horror to something else entirely. I wasn’t prepared for it, and it was awesome. Is that tonal shift something you would consider for a book like Wytches? Don't spoil anything, but this seems more like you're going for more straight-up horror from beginning to end.
No, and I'm glad you pointed that out. It’s a different kind of book. Part of the fun of staying exciting to yourself as a writer is pushing yourself to explore some of the stuff that aggressively keeps you up. So this story is about trying to get at stuff that's different than The Wake. The Wake was exuberant, over the top, and experimental for us. This book is much more of a claustrophobic, piercing, dark exploration of my own fears. It's coolly linear, moving to a very set destination on one track. It moves a little slower, but it has a different payoff and different priorities.
You’re one of the busiest guys in comics—how you manage your split between DC and the creator-owned stuff?
I feel like Charles Soule is making me feel like the biggest underachiever. We’re good friends and he writes like double what I write, so it's making me feel like a lazy bum. I try to focus for a good week to two weeks on a series, so I’m never never writing two things at any one time. I try to be as immersive as I can in that regard. My day is pretty boring ,actually. I don’t want to demystify it too much. I love the idea of the romantic writer life, but I have two small boys. As I’m talking to you, I’m outside their school. They get out in about 15 minutes. I have a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. I take them to school and I then come back and work until I pick them up. I just write. Then, I’m a dad until evening and then I turn back into a monster, I think after they go to sleep and start writing horrible things all over again.
Nathan Reese is a News Editor at Complex. He tweets here.