Scott Snyder Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Not content with taking Batman to a whole other level, writer Scott Snyder also wants to scare the crap out of you and everyone you know with Wytches, a creator-owned title that he works on with artist Jock, published by Image Comics. The first trade paperback, collecting issues #1 - #6 debuts this week in comic book stores and on July 7th in bookstores. I had the opportunity to speak with Snyder about the book, what's coming next for the characters, and I even got in a little Batman.
James Ferguson: So first off...why Wytches? Outside of the Wizard of Oz and Sabrina, witches haven't been much of a go-to monster in the horror.
Scott Snyder: Well, for me I felt like I didn't really start with something to just sort of reinvent. It kind of just came from this idea that came to me when I was out in Pennsylvania. My folks have a lake house there they've had since I was a little kid. When I was a boy, we used to go hiking in the woods behind the house, me and a neighbor, and we'd make up stories a lot about families that lived back there that were Satanic or eat children, and it kind of evolved into this idea that they were witches and stuff like that. Revisiting that idea now that my parents still have the house and I take my own kids there, I pass the same woods often when I go for a run. One day I was running and it occurred to me the thing that was so scary about that idea to me as a kid wasn't really the more sensational aspects, like the Satanic family and the news story of it. It was just the idea that they were always there waiting. This idea of a monster that sort of sat in the woods, knew you were going to come to it and would be very, very patient. So for me, the book evolved from this idea of a creature and a predator that would only really attack when you approached it.
My favorite monster stories involve creatures and beasts of all kinds that essentially are visually scary, but are scarier because they're reflections of the kind of dark desires, impulses, philosophies, or ideologies of the protagonist. So for example, Pet Semetary, the cemetery is scary, but it's really scary because we use it. Similarly, in good zombie movies or TV shows, the zombies are scary, but what's scarier is the human reaction to them. So this would give me the opportunity to explore the very, very dark desires and impulses and wishes of the protagonist by having a villain or a monster that only comes after people that are pledged to them. Even though the Wytches themselves are scary and their whole physiology is scary and they're culture is scary, what's really scary is that your neighbor gave you over to them without you ever realizing it. I knew I had something that would really appeal to me at that point.
If you're asking me “Why witches?”, I guess I've always been attracted to classic monsters like vampires in American Vampire and the Creature from the Black Lagoon in The Wake and witches here. I'm kind of fascinated by what makes iconic monsters enduringly scary. I was thinking that all those monsters are enduring not because of any other aspect to them. Vampires are your neighbors, and your friends come back from the grave to get you. Zombies are similar. Werewolves are a nightmare about our own body becoming something monstrous. When you take them down to their core, there are two things that are scary about witches for me. They have abilities that go beyond our own understanding and with all iterations of them, they're cannibalistic. It's that sense of something that preys on us, but also has the ability to cross science or the boundaries of nature in ways that are strange and unfamiliar to us.
That's kind of an incredibly circuitous answer.
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JF: That's OK! Very well said. That kind of leads into my next question. Can you elaborate a bit on what a “pledge” means within the Wytches world?
SS: There's a logistical reason for the pledge. What happens is when someone pledges you, they touch you with a scent that no one can really sense except people that are incredibly sensitive to it or the Wytches themselves. It's made up of particular things that you'll learn in the next arc. What you need to know about it is that it's a way of invisibly marking somebody for the Wytches. The thing that's scary to me about that is they'll come for you if this happens and you won't know it happened until it's too late.
People are of different values to them. Children have the most value. Older people less so, which is unfortunate for people like me in middle age or whatever...or fortunate I suppose. They have this kind of system, but it also makes sense in that if you pledge somebody to them, it's expected in some ways that you understand that when this person goes missing you have a way of covering it up. The wytches will give you something to give to the people around them so they'll forget that person ever existed, but it's your responsibility. So that's how they keep themselves secret in that the people that they take are covered for by the people that gave them to the wytches in the first place.
JF: So it's their responsibility, making it so you can't just pledge anybody. You have to accept what that means.
SS: Yeah, exactly. These monsters expect you to cover the tracks. They'll give you the means to do it with these tinctures and things that will make the people that care about this person that you pledged to them forget, but it's still your responsibility.
JF: While Wytches is filled with terrifying monsters, the real horror comes from various aspects of parenthood that come across very real and natural. How much of that comes from real life experience or the general fears of being a parent?
SS: It's very autobiographical in a lot of ways. My story isn't completely parallel to Charlie's in the set pieces and the particular things that he does, but emotionally a lot of what he goes through does echo stuff that I've been through too as a parent. It's hard to say or admit, but one of the things that's been so great about the book is that I think I was a little bit nervous as I told [Wytches artist] Jock, about being quite as ugly on the page about those things. He was very encouraging about that, being a parent himself. Ultimately, the fact that the fans have been so responsive to it, sending stories about their own frustrations and the wonders and terrors of parenthood; it's been a very inspiring experience. I was a little bit intimidated to try it, but I think ultimately it's the most rewarding kind of writing to put something on the page that for me, even if it's embarrassing or even if it's something about depression or anxiety, when people respond in a way that they feel a connection to it, whether they relate to it or they sympathize or anything, it really means a lot. It's a very personal book.
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JF: Did that make Wytches difficult to write? Or was it kind of therapeutic?
SS: It's both. At first it was very difficult to write. I was very intimidated by my own ambitions for it. I told Jock and Eric at Image Comics what it was going to be, then as I started to write it, it dawned on me that it was going to be darker than even I had thought. It's a little more harrowing to write. The second issue was where I realized that it just had to be what it was and it was very freeing. The first couple of issues I had a lot of trouble, not writing because I had it planned out, but I think coping with how confessional I was going to be or how dark the underbelly of what the book was going to be in terms of the psychological and emotional struggles that the characters went through. Once I was over that initial hurdle, it became very liberating.
JF: The end of the first arc packed a helluva punch. There were huge twists and reveals. Was that always the direction the story was going?
SS: Oh yeah. It's in the initial outline and everything. It was pretty paint by numbers in terms of the beats we set out in our outline. Also, because of the way things worked with the film rights being optioned, all of the material that was in the first arc was all laid out in a way for Image and for Plan B. We pretty much stuck to our guns from go.
JF: You and Jock clearly have a great chemistry working together as seen in this and previous books. How is it the collaborative process with him?
SS: He's great. The thing to understand is that Jock is the one that took a chance on me when I was nobody on Detective Comics. I approached him and asked him if he'd do a yearlong story with me and I had nothing under my belt but maybe an issue or two of American Vampire. He had a thriving career already at that point. To commit to a yearlong arc with somebody who was as green as I was at that time, I'm forever grateful to him. He just liked the story that I pitched him for The Black Mirror and he just signed on, sight unseen, at San Diego Comic Con in 2010. For me, that was just one of the greatest moments career-wise and will always remain so. We've become very good friends since then because we know each other a good five years now. For us, working together we have a really good shorthand. I know things that he likes in a script, so I write differently for him than I write for Greg [Capullo] or for Rafael [Albuquerque] or Jeff Lemire or Sean Murphy. Each of them has things that they really respond to and once you learn that, you write to those strengths. Whereas Rafael likes certain areas to be more free form so he can choreograph the action in certain ways, Jock is the kind of guy that likes to have a full script, panel-by-panel. He'll go off script a lot of times, but he likes to have that blueprint. We have a way of working that we both really learned what we like and what we're comfortable with and it's a great relationship. I love him.
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JF: What's next for Wytches? Your afterward of issue #6 mentioned that you and Jock were plotting out the second arc and it looks like Sailor is taking a much bigger role.
SS: The next storyline really focuses on her as she joins the Irons, the group that Claire was a part of in this arc. The first arc focuses on the wonders and terrors of being a parent. The second arc has a lot to do with letting your parents go. For a teenager like Sailor, generally it means breaking away, but because she lost her parentsm a lot of what she goes through is closer to the kind of thing that people my age are beginning to go through where you see your parents getting older. There's this process of letting them go when things don't go well health-wise. I think it's something that's really terrifying. The story itself is about a return to Litchfield and finding something very surprising about the town when she goes back and what's happened to it since she left. Then she begins uncovering a mystery about whether her father still exists out there.
It also expands the mythology. You learn about different burrows around the United States and the history of the wytches, the Irons, and also the people that are supplicant to the wytches, the people that have followed them over the years. It's both sort of very intimate and focuses on Sailor as closely as we followed her internally in this arc. We also introduce characters like Claire's children, who were part of the Irons. It's intimate in that way, but it's also very expansive in that it explores more deeply the mythology of the series, the breadth of the history behind the monsters and the people affiliated with them.
JF: You mentioned earlier your love for the classic monsters. Is there one that you haven't tackled yet that you're interested in exploring further?
SS: Yeah, there are a few actually. I feel like no one's ever done anything with ghouls. They're sort of like the red-headed step-children to zombies. When you actually look into them, they're pretty spooky. I actually just used one in American Vampire #9. But yeah, there are quite a few. They are endlessly interesting to me. I love the idea of these things that have kind of made it down different iterations of history because at their core, there is something deeply frightening about them. I would do a new version of a vampire or any of that stuff any time. There are at least two or three more monsters I want to play with.
JF: I have one more question for it and it's because I can't let you go without asking a Batman question. How would he handle the Wytches?
SS: [Laughs] Batman always wins, so he'd figure out a way to just pledge them back to themselves so it would be a fun mash-up, if only I had the rights, right?
HorrorTalk would like to thank Scott Snyder for taking the time to speak with us. Wytches: Volume 1 will be available in comic book stores on June 24th and in bookstores on July 7th. It's an absolute steal at $9.99. It can be ordered via the links below.
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