There are a few creators working in comics today who seem to have a Midas touch; every storyline they pen turns into narrative gold. Matt Fraction, Charles Soule, and Brian K. Vaughan are all pretty untouchable right now, but few can seem to match the consistently excellent output of Scott Snyder. Not only has Snyder been at the forefront of one of the most exciting reinvigorations of DC Comics’ Batman in years, but he has also been turning in seriously stellar work on titles like American Vampire and The Wake. Most excitingly, his new creator-owned Image Comics series Wytches is one of the most searing, scintillating debuts I have read in a long time. Only three issues deep into its run, Wytches is already one of my most anticipated titles each month.
With his latest issue of Batman out today (which we previewed earlier this week) and a new issue of Wytches due out next week, Snyder is poised to take over your pull list. Recently, I caught up with Snyder to pick his brain about the future of Wytches, what’s in store for us in “Endgame”, and much more.
N: Wytches has definitely been one of my favorite new comics to come out this year. Even after that first issue, I was just so blown away. It was not what I was expecting, so congratulations.
SS: Well, thank you, sir. I appreciate that
N: What’s the response been like so far?
SS: Well, luckily it’s been good, you know – kind of overwhelmingly so for Jock and me and Matt [Hollingsworth]. I think when we did the book, none of us expected it to do half what it’s doing sales-wise. We were fine with that. We really were doing it for us. Jock is one of my close friends, and we had a good time collaborating on Detective Comics, and we had been looking for a series to do together since. I knew when I came up with the idea for this, he would be perfect for it.
When we talked about it, it really was a concern that the big books at Image, Saga and East of West, they were sort of very expansive, irreverent fun sci-fi series and adventure series. They had a lot of brightness and color, even when they were grim and dark. Our series was going to be this very twisted, intimate, horror, black horror series, as dark as we could go, and it wasn’t going to be this huge, world-building epic. It was going to be real nice and arc-y.
And for us we sort of thought that it’s personal. It has – I hope you can tell reading it, that it’s a deeply personal story to all of us, me especially. So we were OK if it just did 20,000 or 30,000, and that would be wonderful. So the idea that a book like that could sell as well as it did, for us, was just completely bewildering. Like, completely bewildering!
It really says a lot about the change of the landscape in comics, and how wonderful fans are nowadays, in the way that they will support passion projects for creators that they really like, and books that even three or four years ago would never be sustainable are now actually books that you can make a living on, and are not just sustainable, but thrive.
So it was just hugely surprising, and eye-opening, and incredibly endearing about fans, the fact that they would be so supportive of the books. Yeah – it was just incredibly thrilling to us, and we’re very grateful for all of them.
N: It’s really cool to see fans come out and support this creator-driven model. They’re not necessarily loyal to specific publishers, but they want to follow some of their favorite creators, and that’s been very cool to see. And it’s allowed for very cool opportunities. Case in point: Wytches.
SS: Yeah, it’s just fascinating how quickly the landscape is changing. I mean, really, I think that even four or five years ago, it was so different. Before digitization of comics, before Image got quite as robust as it is now – it’s just incredibly exciting how quickly things are evolving. How the audiences are evolving, how the demographics are evolving – all of it, it’s just coming so fast, it’s almost hard to get an aerial view of.
N: In terms of Wytches, you mentioned that it is a personal story, and it definitely feels more personal than another comic, say, like, Severed, which I also enjoyed. But this one feels like it’s coming from a very personal place. Did being a parent yourself affect how you approached this story?
SS: Yeah, very much. I mean, for me – Severed I wrote before I had kids, and that was a book, it was very much, I think you can tell, about a certain period in history where there was this intense optimism, and this intense sense of pride, and all this kind of ingenuity that was going on at the time between the popularization of horror, and films and all this kind of stuff was becoming part of daily life. It was new to the world and was sort of finding its way here.
Then the flip side of that, the tremendous sense of foreboding and menace and darkness that was coming with the war, and also just with a lot of hardship we would face domestically. So it’s an emotional book, and it’s personal, because I have a connection or a fascination with that period.
But it’s not emotional the way this book is. Having kids, suddenly your world becomes a lot scarier, because you have this thing walking around in the world that makes you vulnerable to it, and makes you feel that if something happened to that kid, you wouldn’t recover from it, and that’s very scary, and that love can be infuriating sometimes too. The book is very much about that. It’s definitely more – it’s definitely the most personal book I’ve done.
N: That definitely came across – I think in issue #2, Sailor’s father says verbatim, “Don’t have kids, it’s awful. It feels like a vital organ left you and is walking around every day.” It really struck home, the way he tries to address her trauma and deal with it; it feels very raw and authentic.
SS: Thanks, man.
N: Tell me a little bit about the mythology. How did you approach it? Were you drawing from specific cultures and interpretations of witches? Or were you guys trying to create something new?
SS: Well, a bit of both. I mean, we did do a lot of research. It was a lot of fun looking up witches from different cultures, from Baba Yaga to this – I forget what the witch’s name, a Southeast Asian witch that sucks your soul through your toes at night. So there’s a lot of different, crazy, and wonderfully colorful interpretations of witches. But the things that I realized were sort of usually the core elements. One, above all, they’re cannibalistic. They either eat you or eat your soul or your children. That was the first, number one requirement for a witch.
The second thing was that they had abilities, sort of beyond our understanding. And usually the third thing that was common was that they lived somewhere and you would go to them. They would wait for you to come to them, or they would prey on you. You’d make a mistake in the woods, you would get lost, and they would find you.
So those three elements to me were really fascinating, because if you use them just as the raw thing, there’s nothing else to these monsters, they’re very powerful, because they can be terrifyingly scary physically – they’re eight to nine feet tall, and naked and skeletal and androgynous. They have both sexual organs, if you look. When you get the full frontal design later, you’ll see.
But they’re very alien, in some ways, and at the same time they’re very humanoid. So physically they have their faces on the sides of their heads. They’ve evolved that way, so they kind of peek around trees at you. What makes them scary, even beyond that, to me, is this idea is that they can do things that we don’t understand. They have this natural science, this strange, intimate, private science that nobody knows but them, where they can grind bones and make tinctures and things, and these mixtures they make can cure everything from small illness to add years to your life, and almost make you younger. But it’s also supposed to be science; none of it’s magic.
And then lastly, the thing that makes them absolutely scary is that they’re an element. They wait for you to come to them. They’ll come after anyone that’s pledged to them. They’ll come in your window and get you, if you’re pledged to them. But they only take people that are pledged. It’s part of their strange culture. And it makes practical sense, it means that the person that pledged you is confident that you’re not going to get blamed – that nobody is going to come looking for you, or that there won’t be a lot of suspicion cast around as to what happened to this person.
But secondarily, the thing that makes it scary, and the thing that is at the core of the whole book, is this notion that the witches are a reflection of the darkest parts of our own nature. You pledge someone to them to get what you want; to act on your secret desires you don’t want people to know about. And in that way, they are scary because they are a reflection of us.
N: In terms of supernatural horror and fantasy and stuff that we’re seeing permeate through pop culture right now, witches seem to be popping up more and more frequently. Maybe that’s just as a result of vampire and werewolf burn-out. Is there something about them that you think that we’re drawn to, from a pop-cultural standpoint?
SS: It’s strange to think of witches being popular right now, only in the way that ours are so monstrous, I think, compared to the ones that we see on TV, when you see sort of more charming or exotic or sexy witches that cast magical spells.
So for me, ours kind of stand to the side of those. I think, you know, that there’s always a fascination with people that have given something up, or give things up to get what they want, whether those are the people that go to the witches, or the witches themselves. That sense of finding a way to shortcut the natural challenges in life -finding a way to go to somebody and say “I don’t want to die,” or “I want this person to fall in love with me,” or “Help me be young again.” Those things, if you could find some source of abomination or some unnatural well of power, there’s something primally attractive and scary about that, because we all have desires like that. That you could find someone or something that could make them come true, how far would you go to get what you want?
N: Yeah, it feels like seeing how greedy or how cruel people can be, and what they’re willing to do to get what they want, even at the expense of other human life.
SS: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
N: You seem to have this fascination with horror between Wytches and American Vampire and Severed, and even some aspects of Batman. It just seems to permeate your work. What about horror and that genre in particular appeals to you for comics? Why do you feel like comics is such a good medium for that?
SS: For me, I think the reason I gravitate toward horror – I always have – is because when horror’s done right, it pits a character against their deepest fears in a really primal and raw and bald and brutal way. So the monster or the thing they’re facing really represents either an extension of their fears about the world, or an extension of the fears that they have about themselves, and the things they think of their own shortcomings.
So that, for me – the best Stephen King, the best George Romero, those stories really hurt because you’re seeing conflict in this pure and intense way. Because in drama, I feel like that’s what conflict – it’s that anyways. People sort of having to wrestle with their own shortcomings, their fears about the world and about themselves. But in horror, those things can be brought into such life-and-death relief, all of a sudden. It’s almost like a volume turned all the way up drama when it’s done really well.
N: Yeah, I think that’s very well said. And I feel like trying to face your fears and playing on them, I think that’s part of what makes Batman work so well, and it’s part of what’s made your run on Batman work so well. I have to say, I’ve been very much enjoying “Endgame” right now, but I do have a question: Why do people keep living in Gotham City? Because it really seems like a terrible place to live.
SS: [chuckling] It is. It’s gloomy, and on top of that, you have getting gassed right and left by the Joker, and Scarecrow, and then the Riddler is taking over. I mean, it’s awful. But I think the reason that people live there is because the city is this great antagonist, where it throws these challenges at you and says “You’re not going to make it.” But if you can stay and make it and overcome the kinds of things it throws at you, then ultimately, you can be the hero you want to me.
That’s the message of Batman, I think. He overcame his trauma, one of the worst things that the city could throw at you – this random violence against his parents – and he turns himself into this pinnacle of human achievement. So ultimately, if he can do that, the message is you can overcome whatever challenges you’re facing, and Gotham really is a place that’s transformative, in that regard.
N: Nice. That’s like a Horatio Alger story on steroids.
SS: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it.
N: With “Endgame”, similar to the “Amazo Virus” arc that’s going on with Justice League right now, it seemed to tap into these fears of Ebola and biological attack. Were those the sorts of things you were bearing in mind when planning this arc out?
SS: Well, it’s funny, because I came up with the arc a long time ago. I knew that the Joker virus was going to be a part of it back when I was doing “Death of the Family.” Right when I was finishing that I knew – we always knew we’d do a second part, but the shape of that second part started to become clear. Where “Death of the Family” was intimate and small, this was going to be big and expansive and take the city.
So I knew there was going to be something all the way back then. I think it’s just one of those things – strange coincidence that there’s sort of a public fear about it, and it wound up happening in Justice League at the same time. It’s just a really funny, or odd, coincidence. So I don’t know. It’s the zeitgeist, and oddly enough, we had planned that quite a while ago.
N: It’s funny you say that. I was speaking with Geoff Johns recently about Amazo Virus, and he also mentioned it was not motivated by the current climate; it was just a very eerie coincidence.
SS: Yeah, those fears, they’re in the bloodstream right now. The fear of pandemics, fear of blackouts, fear of super-storms, fear of failure of resources, random gunmen – all those things, you know? I mean, that’s mostly what we try to do, make a city that was plagued by all those things, so that Batman would come up in his first challenge against a lot of the things that are modern fears today, as opposed to classic shooting gang violence and urban decay – the kinds of stuff that I think in year one was center stage.
N: One of my other favorite parts of “Endgame” has been Batman battling the Joker-ized Justice League, because whenever Batman has to throw down against his pals, it’s always a dream come true. When did that enter into your plans for the arc, and what was the most difficult or enjoyable part in realizing these various contingency plans?
SS: Well, again, I knew that we were going to do that pretty early, because my feeling was if “Death of the Family” was about love and friendship and these things, at least for Joker, then the next one was going to be the reverse. It was going to be all about hate and tragedy, things that were common. So it would be a good thing, I thought, to have a friend turned enemy. This idea of he’s sending this message with “We used to be allies,” at least in his mind, “and now we are foes,” for real. So in that way, he’s sending the Justice League with intent, but I also felt it was something that would be a really terrifying opening beat.
Not just because it would show how powerful the Joker – how powerful his plan was, but also it would be scary because you know it’s the opening beat, so you know things are just going to get crazier from there.
N: Are there any other projects you have coming down the pipeline that you’re excited about that we didn’t get a chance to touch on?
SS: Nothing I can announce, but I do have stuff. I do, definitely, have things that I’ll be able to talk about in the near future that I’m excited about for 2015.
N: Awesome. And I know it’s obviously still early on in the process, but can you give us any updates about the Wytches adaptation? I know it was optioned after the first issue.
SS: Yeah! We were both completely stunned and excited about that – me and Jock. But yeah, it’s growing – almost head-spinningly well. Plan B has a screenwriter for it that they’ve hired, and we got to chat with him, which was really exciting. He told us his ideas, and a couple of them were so good I was like, “Can I steal that for the comic book?”
So it’s a lot of fun. It’s totally new territory for me, and I’m really thrilled that Wytches has found a home at such a terrific place. I love the people there, and so does Jock. We’re just really, really grateful, and excited about it. It’s in motion.
N: That’s awesome. I really hope that they will let Jock do the movie poster when it comes out.
SS: Yeah, I’m excited for him to do that stuff. He already volunteered his services.
N: That’s awesome. I’m tired of the same Photoshopped posters of the brooding 30-something white dude with stubble. I want some Drew Struzan stuff. I want something more exciting!
SS: [chuckling] Well, if anyone can do it, he can.
N: Yeah, exactly. One last question for you: In a perfect world, who would you like to see play Sailor?
SS: I would play Sailor.
SS: I don’t know. It’s hard, you know. It’s hard. I honestly don’t mean to cop out, but it’s hard ever to do that, because she’s so real to me and Jock on the page, the way we see her. It’s not somebody I think of and think “Oh, that’s who would be her,” because he draws her so distinctly that she has her own look. It’s almost like a leap to think who could play her. But I’ll be excited for anybody, honestly.
My feeling is sort of like, one of the great things about comics is that, as obvious as this is, I don’t know if people think about it this way, but you make them. Working in other fields like film or television, there are so many people, so many levels and hoops you have to jump through, and so many revisions, and so many cooks in the kitchen all the time. Those are wonderful things if you like those things. It’s not knocking those mediums.
But with a comic, it’s you and your friend, and you put it together, and it goes out into the world. It’s a little more complicated than that, but honestly, not really. Me and Matt and Jock are good friends, and Clem the letterer has become a good friend, and it’s us just making the comic. And you make it, and it exists the way you want it to exist.
If somebody comes along and wants to do something really similar with it, in film or TV, great. If somebody wants to do something different, and take it and adapt it in a different way than you saw it, great! But Plan B seems to be coming really close to what we’re doing, in a way that’s exciting. But if they didn’t, if they decided they wanted to take it in a totally different direction, that would be OK with me too.
I trust them and the screenwriter, and it’s just fun to watch. It’s fun to know that someone likes it enough and believes in it enough that they want to do a vision of it that’s theirs. And whether that vision is close or slightly different, or very different, it’s all exciting to us.
N: Yeah, it’s nice to have that thrill of going to the store on Wednesday and picking up a brand new issue, being able to hold it in your hands. It’s not something you can do per se with a movie or a TV adaptation.
SS: Yeah. It comes out every month – it exists in the world. That doesn’t – you don’t have so many masters to please. It’s not – I don’t know, you think about the kind of money and difficulty that comes with doing TV or film, and the amount of people that have to sign off. Again, it’s nothing against those things at all, but it just means it’s a different format, and for comics, you’re making them with your team, and you make them just the way you want them to and the way you manage to make them. There’s something incredibly exciting and very kinetic about that. It comes out, and it exists in the sun, and it’s yours.
N: Yeah, it’s nice to get the unadulterated version. It feels good.
SS: Yeah. Exactly.
Batman #38 is available today. Wytches #4 is available on February 4.