Scott Snyder’s been wowing horror fans since his acclaimed short story collection Voodoo Heart was published in 2006. Bringing his gift for generating frights to comics, he’s created award-winning titles like The Wake and American Vampire (the latter in collaboration with Stephen King); and his run on DC’s Batman is arguably the most satisfying work on the character since Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Snyder’s latest project is Wytches, an ongoing Image series illustrated by his frequent collaborator, Jock. As we learned when speaking with the writer, the book’s genesis alone is chilling…
Nerdist: How did Wytches come to be?
Scott Snyder: Since I was a kid, about six years old, my folks had this house in Pennsylvania, right at the border, around the Poconos. As a kid, I always thought it was Transylvania. [Laughs] So I was terrified of going there, I thought there were all kinds of monsters in the woods. But eventually I came around and we used to go pretty regularly. There was a boy who lived next door named Ryan, and the two of us would go out pretty often. We’d bring bats with nails in them – we were twelve, thirteen years old. We made up all sorts of stories about what was back there, and we eventually fell upon this story of a satanic family that ate people and sacrificed animals. Every little bottle cap or anything we found was a testament to this story. Ultimately, his mom caught us with those bats and forbade us to go back there. We did it a few more times, but that put an end to our walks generally.
Then, about a year and a half ago I was back there with my kids; we go up pretty frequently still. I went for a run, and I was passing the area where we used to run through the woods, me and Ryan. They’ve built a school there since, and there’s not really a passageway back, but if you walk around the school you can see the path. And as I was looking around, looking down this path, and the trees were just sort of shifting in the wind, they looked so human that it really sent a shiver through me. [Laughs] The idea crossed my mind – what if there always had been something back there and there had been something watching us? And what if it was still there and it just waited for me to come back all this time? And it had never come after me, it just knew that I would someday return.
Something about that really stayed with me. This notion of a monster that is terrifying in its own right, physically. A witch that’s sort of nine feet tall and androgynous and burrows in the ground and hides in trees and all this stuff, and is cannibalistic. Ultimately it’s more deeply scary because they wait for someone to come to them wanting something. The witches in our series live on human flesh, but they will only come after people that have been pledged to them. So, for example, if you have someone in your family who’s sick, or you yourself have some ailment that modern medicine can’t really cure, these witches have this ancient science – there’s no magic in our series or anything – they can make these very raw sorts of tinctures and mixtures of all kinds of organic materials – minerals, bones, blood. And they can cure things that medicine can’t. The only price is you have to give them someone to eat. You mark them with a certain kind of scent that pledges them, and the witches know they’ve been allotted to them. So they come get you if you’ve been pledged to them.
So for me it really came down to this idea of a monster that would be scary because of the design, but more deeply scary because they just wait there for you to hunt them, and they’re more of a reflection of the darker aspects of human nature.
N: You’ve worked with Jock before. What inspires you about his work?
SS: He’s the only person that I considered for this book. I remember calling him really soon after that experience, when I first thought of the story. He wasn’t free, he had a lot of stuff going on. So it really was a choice of whether to wait for him or go to somebody else. And it wasn’t a choice at all. It was always, “I’ll wait for him.” His art is so perfect for this book in particular, because he’s so great at creating these very thoughtful and also very disturbing designs on the page. So things will be a little too close to a character, they’ll be at an unstable angle. There will be a little too much space behind them. The lines and the shadows will be a little too dark. But nothing is overbearing. He always creates this creeping sense of dread for when he really brings the monsters out. He’s able to do very intimate scenes well too. It’s just this sense of unease, of some things sitting just off panel. The panels, the way he constructs them, always seem to signal this sense of discomfort. In some ways, it’s really, really excitingly spooky. If that makes sense.
N: The two of you created Spotify playlists to accompany Wytches…
SS: [Laughs] Yeah, we did. We talked about it a while ago, about doing it. The funny thing was, at first, we filled it with songs like “Monster Mash”. You can’t really think of anything that’s filled with monsters and spooky. It wasn’t coming out. Then I was like, “What if we just do it for the characters, and do their playlists?” There’s three main characters in the story. The story really focuses on a family, a father, a mother, and a teenage daughter who relocate to a town in New Hampshire because of a traumatic thing that happens to the daughter where they lived in the woods. They move to this town, and of course bad things start coming out of the woods for them – for the daughter and the rest of the family too – that leads them down this spiraling path into the mythology of the series. So we decided we’d do that. So I made the parents’ playlist, and Jock’s sixteen-year-old son Aubrey made Lucy’s out of music he really loved. So we felt very old, because I was like, “Wait, who is this band?” My wife really loves indie music, she listens to college radio all day. So I’m aware of them, but I’m a really big Americana fan, and I have been since I was a kid. Then Charlie, the dad, he’s a bit of a ’90s purist. He’s a little bit stuck in time. So it was a lot of fun to go back and pick songs that.. I think a lot of us at a certain age in our thirties take a tremendous amount of pride in being like, “It was a golden time!” You always think that the time you grew up in was the Renaissance. [Laughs]
N: Like a lot of horror authors, you appear to be an especially well-adjusted person. What set you down the path of the macabre?
SS: Yeah, it’s strange. Because it was always my favorite, even as a kid. Part of it was just growing up as a pretty anxious kid. I always had trouble with anxiety as a boy. There’s something bizarrely comforting in seeing these worst-case scenario films and then coming out of them somehow. Seeing the most horrible things you can imagine and the most nightmarish scenarios, and then having characters sort of affirm themselves by coming out of the situation. The first book that really did it for me was Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. I was away at an athletic sleepaway camp when I was eight or nine, and I was not particularly athletic. I was fine, but I wasn’t the captain of the team or anything. At night there was this counselor who we had who would read to us from this book, and he began on the first night and he finished it on the last. It’s a fantasy book, but it’s full of horror. In the sense that this character, Randall Flagg, could be so dark, it really captured my imagination — the sense of drama surrounding someone that sees the things that you’re afraid are true about your family and about the world around you, and then brings them to life to show you that they are true.
So my imagination was just always captured by that sort of a story, where there’s an antagonist that looks at you and says, “I know what you’re most afraid is true about you, about your loved ones and about life, and I’m gonna show you why that’s so.” That lends itself to drama too, but in its purest form I think horror approaches that kind of story. In great horror, at least in the stuff I love like Pet Sematary or Night of the Living Dead or Frankenstein, there’s a sense that the monster is a manifestation of the things that you think are true about you in some way. Frankenstein’s monster is an extension of Doctor Frankenstein’s hubris and his inability to accept death. Similarly, Pet Semetary is terrifying. It’s terrifying to know that there’s a cemetery that will generate zombies, but it’s only scary when you go to it and put somebody in there because selfishly you can’t let them go. So that kind of story, where there’s a very scary thing but it’s doubly frightening because it’s an reflection of the darker parts of the characters’ psychology. That appeals to me.
N: What’s next for you?
SS: The thing about Wytches is that it’s an ongoing series. So this is sort of the big thing right now for me. But the other thing we’re starting is a really dark story on Batman, an over-the-top story with issue 35, which comes out in October. It’s sort of our celebration of Batman’s seventy-fifth anniversary. So it’s got the biggest cast, the craziest stuff happening. It’s a really fun point to jump onto the book, because it’s got everyone you want to see in a story for Batman’s 75th, from superheroes to villains. I also have American Vampire, which I really love working on. I’ve written more issues of that than anything. We’re up to what would be our fifty-first or fifty-second issue coming out. But we started it again with a second cycle a couple of months ago, so technically it’s issue 6. Basically American Vampire follows this bloodline of new vampires that are wholly American, where they walk in the sunlight and have different fangs and different claws. You kind of follow that through history, so we’ve followed that bloodline from the 1880s to the 1960s. We’re now in the space race and Area 51. So it’ll be a lot of fun.
After doing that playlist thing, I want to do it for every book now. It’s just that my tastes… I’ve always been a big Elvis, rockabilly, and Americana fan since I was a kid.
N: That’s something you have in common with Stephen King.
SS: We actually trade CDs! Back when I first met him, when he was first very kind to me when I was working in short stories, he read my book and wrote a quote. Then he came to town and we met and invited me and my wife to stop by his place in Florida once. He’s been incredibly kind to us and to me. He’s just been so generous and sweet. But along the way, we’ve traded a lot of music. We have very similar tastes. We’re both big American folk and rock and country fans. He’s a big Elvis fan too, which is a lot of fun for me. I sign emails to him “TCB.” I fell into Elvis when I was a teenager, really, really hard. Because I always figured nobody else would like him from New York, and I was like, “I’m just gonna like it because it’s different!” Then I actually wound up liking it and got an Elvis tattoo and went to Graceland. I’m a totally crazy Elvis fan, and when I first met Stephen King he was like, “Are you really an Elvis fan?” I’m like, “It’s not ironic, dude.” So we’ve had a lot of fun joking back and forth about Elvis’ records and everything. Yeah, he’s a great guy.
N: Thank you for your time, Scott.
SS: No, thank you. I love you guys. I just signed on to do a panel with you guys about writing at New York Comic Con on Thursday night. Thanks, I appreciate it!
Scott Snyder and Jock were also kind enough to share those character playlists with us! The first playlist, created by Snyder, includes songs for Lucy (the first 8) and her father Charlie (the second 8).
Jock also created a playlist for the project period entitled “Sail 8.”