Scott Snyder sounds pensive on the phone as he describes his harrowing new project with artist Jock, Wytches, from his home in upstate New York. But the 38-year-old scribe behind the most successful Batman and Superman modern comics isn’t thinking about orphaned crime fighters or hallucinogen-shooting mermen at the moment. On this mid-September morning, Snyder is more concerned about his two sons, Emmett and Jack, making friends on their first day at school.
It’s also an unusual moment for another reason: Snyder had sent a PDF of Wytches#1 only moments before. One standout scene in the comic features protagonist and fawning father Charles Rooks send his own child off to school. On that day, Rooks and Snyder collapsed the boundary of fiction and reality, where creator and creation became one. “I dropped them off today, and it’s those same fears as the character, Charles. Oh God: please let them do well at this school, in terms of friends and meeting all the right people.’”
And somehow, this metaphysical anomaly isn’t surprising at all. One the most literary writers in mainstream comics, Snyder has guided iconic characters including Batman and Superman along the creative tightrope of critical acclaim and intimidating sales. (Superman Unchained #1 was the third most successful comic of 2013 while Batman occupied the best-selling graphic novels list twice). He’s also seeded a landscape of genre-bending original properties, including the centuries-spanning epic American Vampire and deep sea boiler The Wake.
More importantly, Snyder’s work injects the most powerful, alien and monstrous of characters with an undeniable humanity: the sociopathic Joker secretly roots for Batman’s ascent as a mythic ideologue; an elderly cannibal in the miniseriesSevered develops paternal instincts before embracing his inner monster. In the case of Wytches, writer Charles Rook channels many of Snyder’s most intimate fears and hopes. So if the pair happens to cross the space-time nexus and mirror each others lives, that’s just par for the course.
“Wytches is largely about this father, Charlie — this successful graphic novelist. He’s got a very popular graphic novel series for kids,” Snyder says. “You can obviously see a connection from the go. But he is struggling in some ways; he loves being a father and he’s good at it. He cares about his daughter deeply, but with moments of guilt. And the Wytches are always out there, waiting to prey on those vulnerabilities. So where the story goes, in terms of that darkness … that’s where I want to tell the scariest story possible.”
And Wytches, or its very first issue, is very, very scary. As with all of his work, Snyder has no intention of romanticizing the chimerical creatures that have haunted nightmares for centuries. His first ongoing comic, American Vampire, laid its foundation on dispelling the notion of bloodsuckers as photogenic teenagers waiting to wrap you in their varsity jackets. After lauding Snyder’s prose short story collection Voodoo Heart, Stephen King (yes, the horror laureate Stephen King) joined on as a co-writer on the series’ first arc, encapsulating American Vampire’s manifesto in this introduction:
“In the end, though, it’s all about giving back the teeth that the current ‘sweetie-vamp’ craze has, by and large, stolen from the bloodsuckers. It’s about making themscary again. Stone killers who never get enough of that tasty Type-A. Bad Boys and girls. Hunters.”
But the series accomplishes far more than reclaiming the — literally and figuratively — defanged. It parallels supernatural bloodlust with a country’s ravenous journey to consume and grow, abandoning the aristocracy of old-world Europe for a brutal zero-sum game. (A recent guest story by Jason Aaron pitted Native Americans against colonial vampires).
Wytches continues the tradition of innovating on classic monsters with abrasive, intellectual finesse. Even the title’s spelling, reminiscent of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” reinforces a new interpretation of an old archetype that’s “wilder and stranger and something almost older; something bestial and less civilized.” The first pages of the book even feature a dictionary definition of “witch” scratched away in grotesque fingernail strokes.
“I love taking classic monsters and trying to reinterpret them in ways that make them scary,” Snyder says. “But more importantly than scary, the reinterpretation should be potent. That idea of shedding the trappings that make monsters approachable or sympathetic or romantic — that’s always part of the project for me, just because of my tastes. My favorite vampire movies are Near Dark and Lost Boysand Let The Right One In and Salem’s Lot. All my favorite versions of classic monsters are the versions that take something that’s familiar — like your neighbors or something very American or indigenous to your neighborhood — and turn them into this murderous, scary thing that’s unstoppably coming after you. So I always start with that idea, and here with Wytches, it’s similar: it’s the woods right outside your house.”
For an adolescent Snyder, these woods, and the origins of Wytches, knelt at the base of the Pocono Mountains, where his parents owned a vacation home. Already terrified of the new locale because he thought Pennsylvania was Transylvania, Snyder befriended a neighbor named Ryan who would join him on witch hunts around the local woods. The pair carried bats covered in protruding nails, hunting a family of Satan-worshippers the pair created and discovering an overgrown cemetery. And then the family said hello. Well … maybe.
“One day Ryan saw somebody in the woods. He said ‘oh God, that’s one of the family’ and I said ‘who, who?’ And he said ‘they were huge — they were behind this tree.’ It totally freaked me out. I don’t know if he was just fucking with me or telling the truth, but he said ‘I really saw them and they were just wearing this white thing.’ It was so spooky. We went back and kept on looking after that, but we never saw anybody.”
Snyder brings his family to the same house today, where he routinely runs through the woods where the white-garbed devil-adoring ghouls may still lurk among the trees. “The thing that was scary wasn’t necessarily the sense that there was this monster, but what if it was just always there, and it had waited all this time because you knew you’d come back. So what did it really want? And what did it want you to give it? What would it trade with you? That’s really the genesis of the story for me. The slogan we’ve been playing with is ‘who would you pledge?’”
This confluence of vivid nostalgia and adult anxiety merges into a project that captures domestic bliss on the verge of implosion. Charles wants to protect his daughter from a past atrocity out to haunt her while maintaining his career’s momentum. The scares lie much deeper than the fight-or-flight rush of outside forces hurting or maiming. Much like the works of Mary Shelley and the other writers of the Villa Diodati (Frankenstein was Snyder’s first favorite book), the real question is what do these outside forces reflect in us, and at what point do we become the monster?
“The monsters that I gravitate toward show us the things we’re afraid of, or are true about ourselves. They put pressure on us in certain ways to face mortality,” Snyder says. “It’s about the horrors you would engender out of that love. That’s what I mean here, too; to write a book that’s absolutely the scariest book I could write for myself. I hope it’s clear to people that Wytches is a deeply personal comic from page one.”
via Paste Magazine