"Wytches" is the most terrifying comic you've ever read, you just don't know it yet. The Image Comics book by former "Batman" collaborators Scott Snyder (writing) and Jock (art) twists traditional witch folklore into something new and terrifying. Think "Blair Witch Project," but with actual payoff and way more teeth scattered on the ground, and you've got the idea.
The first issue hits stores today (October 8), and in advance of the release we talked with Snyder about the book, how it (sort of) was inspired by "Frozen," possible movie/TV plans -- and why once you read the book, you'll never go into the woods again.
MTV News: Let's talk a little bit about where this idea came from... Was there a piece of lore you read? Was there some particular thing, or was it just the idea of kind of starting from the ground up with witches and reinventing them?
Scott Snyder: It was more personal. I mean my folks, they’ve had this place right over the border in Pennsylvania since I was about five or six, and I used to go. First of all, I was afraid. I got Pennsylvania confused with Transylvania as a child, so I was constantly terrified to go there because I thought there were vampires all over the place.
As I got older, we realized that one of the neighbors had a kid my age, and the two of us, when we turned nine, 10, 11, started going walking or hiking in the woods across the road from our houses -- they were protected from hunting - and we’d make up these crazy stories about monsters. It culminated in a single story about a satanic family that was always after us.
Eventually, our mothers found out that we went back there with bats with nails in them, and they stopped us from going. The house is still there, and I take my kids out there -- my parents just had us out there just last week. About a year ago, I was running on the road, and they’ve since built a big school on the area where the woods used to be. I just went behind just to see if the path was still there, and as I was coming around the tree, there was something moving in the wind... And it actually looked almost human.
It really hit me all at once, just maybe there was something out there that’s been waiting for 20 or 30 years for me to come back. It sent such a chill through me... This notion that there could be these witches, these creatures that didn’t really come after you because they knew you’d come back looking for something - and they were out there waiting.
Now that was really the genesis of the idea. In the book, there are these ancient, primal, skeletal, really really scary creatures... They’re very tall, and very animalistic, and have got a great design.
Essentially, they wait out there for someone to pledge someone else to them to eat, to put a scent on them, so the witches know to come after them. And if you do that, if you give them something to eat that they want, they’ll give you whatever you’re looking for from them. They make incredible creations out of roots, out of leaves, out of all kinds of natural elements -- and they go way beyond the reach of our modern medicine, so they’re able to cure all sorts of things.
If your child has cancer, or if you have any type of ailment... If you want to save your life or health, you’re able to do all of that.
It became a story that was deeply about, what if there’s something out there that was always waiting for someone to make a selfish decision, for someone to come out there and make a bad move, you know, someone to come out there and show an ugly part of themselves or get desperate? I really knew I had the book right then. It was like three days later that I called Jock. I told him about it, and was waiting for him to get free a few months later.
MTV: You've worked with him before on "Batman," but what was the collaboration like this time? What visually did he bring to the book that changed the way you approached the writing?
Snyder: Well, the collaboration is largely the same as it was, just because we got along. He became one of my close friends after we collaborated last year together, and he coached me a lot. I mean, I was brand new when I was doing "Black Mirror," so I made a lot of mistakes.
I would do 11 panels a page, you know? I directed him too much, and he was so sweet and kind about being like, “You know this could be a little bit better if you gave me a little bit more room." We developed a really good rapport quickly. He taught me to be a much better writer at that time.
And so now, we have a real shorthand after working together for a year, so I know what kinds of scenes he likes more room on. I know which kinds of scenes he likes a little bit more direction. I set things in certain context that I know he’ll excel at.
For example, there’s a scene that takes place in a cafeteria, and I was like you know what... Doing it in the pool [instead], I know he’d make it so creepy with the reflections -- and he just killed it. There's a lot of back and forth between us. We talk pretty much everyday. He’s so good at creating a sense of unease through his angles, through [simple] scratch marks.
It destabilizes you as a reader. It’s constantly a little too close, a little too far away. There’s just this unsettling sense of something off to the edges, because of how he frames it.
MTV: I wanted to talk about some of the influences on the book... I have my own ideas, but I’m curious to hear from you if there was anything in media and pop culture that specifically helped create this book.
Snyder: It's funny, because I did a lot of research on witchcraft and witches and ultimately, I wound up not using very much in terms of the actual folklore.
I would say for anyone interested, folklore is very fun and you should check it out. There’s witches that leave their bodies and suck your soul through your toe... Very wacky. Some elements we used, like their fear of iron, comes into the story. The reason they’re cannibalistic comes into the story...
But in terms of influences from pop culture, I mean Stephen King is a huge influence obviously. My favorite Stephen King stories really are those that pit human characters against monsters. ["Wytches" is] built in that spirit. There’s a lot of paranoia in the book. You don’t know who’s with the witches, or who’s against them.
MTV: King was definitely one of the ones that I pulled out, because one of the characters is a writer -- and having a writer as your main hero seems like a very King thing to do. Was that a conscious choice for you? And as a writer, is there any hesitation to have a main character who has the same profession you do?
Snyder: Yeah! There's a little bit of hesitation, and I worry a little about reading too much like Stephen King... But at the end of the day, [the character] was really designed for that reason, because I wanted to show that his life is not similar to mine. Sometimes the things you don’t want to be creepy in your fiction are the things that are there underneath the surface, and it takes someone else to point them out to you.
He writes for children, and what he thinks he writes is one thing, but it has an undertone that other characters read differently than he does. That’s what the witches as creatures are there to demonstrate. They’re always there just watching silently, and waiting for someone to admit they have elements of their own psychology that aren’t what they want them to be -- and to give into those feelings felt like the right choice for this story. It was funny, because it gave Jock a different style to play with. You’re going to see more of his, he’s a graphic novelist, you’ll be able to see Charlie's book -- so you will be able to see more of his work.
MTV: Cool. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of the rest of the main cast? Certainly the family, but if there's anyone else that we're starting to weave into the story -- what the ideas behind them were?
Snyder: Ultimately the biggest characters are Charlie and Sail. Sail, the daughter, is 13. I really wanted a character that experiences terror a lot differently than her parents. The horror of the book comes from some of the fears you have as a parent, things happening to your child. Your child vanishing. All those things that create a character who has just exited the age where psychologically, you're afraid of kid things, and you're suddenly understanding the adult world.
Your body is changing and you're becoming more adult and then all of a sudden this kind of primal terror like out of a child's fairy tale comes for you -- and that was really a potent idea for me. The wife, Lucy, the mom, she was in an accident not too long ago, and she’s really built around... She's kind of the glue of the family. She’s the strongest character out of all of them.
Because of what she had to overcome, but also because she works as a nurse in the local hospital. There are elements taken from my wife -- my wife is a doctor, and she often talks about how hard the nurses there work, the physical labor of being a nurse, the actual heavy lifting they have to do -- and so I wanted to create a character that has to do these things with a challenge. She's a character that I really adore. And there's going to be a character named Clara, who you get a glimpse of who has a very long history with the witches in a way that’s really spooky. Look out for her.
MTV: There was that free preview you released online, is the main story going to loop back to that, or is the story its own, isolated thing?
Snyder: We're going to loop back to it a tiny bit at one point. I haven’t decided if I’m going bring it in, in this arc, or the next arc. Jock had a few weeks free, and I’d been talking about doing a short story, and we got the opportunity and we said let's just do it, lets just throw it together.
We just wanted to do something really spur of the moment to get us into the spirit of the book, put it out there for free. We wanted to announce how dark the book was going to be, how personal it was going to be, but it is meant to be very much set in the same world. Those characters exist in the same world and they will echo in in different ways later on.
MTV: Image Comics has had such a specific eye on taking their newer properties, and as soon as possible getting them into the works for movies or TV. Is there any talk of that with this particular book?
Snyder: Well, I just worry about the comic. But we are lucky enough, there is some interest and we are both really excited about that. I’m really new to all that. I don’t have a lot of ambitions in that world, but it would be a dream to see anything that I’ve done with my friends become a film or television show.
I'll say this: having the rights, owning the rights from go and having that conversation begin right away and having the freedom to know that you can make those decisions is a really exciting thing.
There are a lot of benefits working at places that take the rights, and have control. I've done that, and I understand that as well... But there is something incredibly exhilarating and liberating about owning this thing completely with a friend the way that we do here... Me and Jock being partners on it, and having 50/50 control of it. You wake up very excited just knowing that you and your good friend own this thing together. I would definitely say if you have the opportunity, try it, because it’s a different feeling.
MTV: Cool, last thing I’ll ask you then I will let you go: are you and Jock dressing in matching "Wytches" costumes for Halloween?
Snyder: If only! I'm always up for those stunts. We'll have brooms. He and I will definitely do something for Halloween in the spirit of "Wytches." It’s funny because my kids, they always ask what I'm writing about, and I'm like I'm writing a book about witches. "Oh, can we see?" Because they know witches from "Frozen," and they think Elsa is a witch... And I cant let them anywhere near my room. I actually believe the whole book is some subconscious response to "Frozen," because we had to watch it one hundred thousand times at our house.
MTV: So if you love "Frozen," you will love "Wytches?"
Snyder: Can I use that on the cover? I’m going to put, MTV says, "If you like 'Frozen,' you will love 'Wytches.'"
MTV: You're on.
"Wytches" is now in stores from Image Comics.