|Interview conducted by Stefan Blitz|
Scott Snyder is one of the busiest and most popular writers working in comics. Among his current projects are Batman, Superman Unchained, American Vampire, overseeing the contributing writers of the weekly series Batman Eternal and his new project, Wytches, a horror series coming from Image Comics on October 8th.
The series also marks a reunion with artist Jock, who Snyder previously collaborated together on Detective Comics. Last Friday, we teased this interview and ran a preview of the new book and are happy to present the interview in full after the jump.
FOG!: It’s strange, I don’t think of you as a horror guy, but when you take a look at what you’ve written, it’s mostly horror. Even your Detective and Batman runs have some very dark elements. What about horror resonates with you as a storyteller?
Scott Snyder: Ultimately it’s always been the genre that I’ve been most attracted to.
As a kid the first books that really resonated with me were Stephen King books. And in comic books I gravitated towards things like Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, Tales From The Crypt and Tomb of Dracula. For some reason those things captured my imagination. Looking back I think what it is, is that the storytelling I enjoyed the most had characters face the greatest fears about themselves. Horror done right, by Stephen King and the people I really admire like Romero, they have the monsters be terrifying. But the monsters end up being a reflection of the things that the characters are afraid or true about themselves, or forcing them into situations where their best and worst come out. And those stories wind up being more about human nature, the nature of the protagonist, than they do about the terror of the monsters themselves.
For me, in it’s purest form horror is a character facing their greatest fear about themselves and that type of narrative has always been very attractive to me. Even in drama. I try and do that on Superman, ultimately I try and write it like a horror book where someone is breaking Superman down and saying, “the thing that you are most afraid is true, but now your behavior and your actions are true, and this is why.”
It’s a horror mechanism even if it doesn’t have monsters in it. It’s sort of a psychological attack.
What was the genesis of Wytches? Was this a supernatural subject you wanted to tackle or did it come from a more organic or personal space?
It wasn’t really supernatural. The two things that inspired it were both pretty personal.
The first, my folks have a place in Pennsylvania, it’s in the foothills of the Poconos. They got it when I was about five or six years old, they still have it; we’re actually going there next week, we’ve been going there forever.
My neighbor and I, who I am actually still good friends with, we used to go out into the woods across the road and go witch hunting.
We sort of had this whole fantasy concocted, it’s very different than the book, about a Satan worshiping family out there and they were killing animals and we were going to catch them in the act.
It had nothing to do with the mythology that’s in this book, but the idea of these creatures, this evil, waiting in the woods, was something that was very potent for me as a kid.
We would go out there with bats and see if we could find these people, these crazy cultists.
Just a year ago we were at this house and I was walking after going for a run near these same woods that we used to go in. They built a school there now, so the entrance that we used to go into the woods is all blocked off. But seeing the trees go back and forth looked creepily human and I imagined what if these things that we had made up, even though they were human in those original stories, what if whatever evil we imagined in the woods was still waiting and waited all this time for me to come back.
And that was the idea that kept me up at night. What if there was an evil that just waits and waits and waits for you to come to it.
And so I got fascinated by this idea, even if only for myself, of reinventing what a witch would be.
What if a wytch was this primal ancient creature that waits out there?
It’s cannibalistic. You never live to tell about them. They live in burrows in the woods. They live very, very far out. And all of the people we’ve accused of being wytches are actually the people that worship them and have pledged other people. “Pledge” being a term we use in the book to mean “donated” or “given” people or “sacrificed” them unwillingly, because the wytches are cannibalistic, to get what they want.
You give he wytches what they want, a person, and they give you what you’re looking for because they have this incredible knowledge of natural science. They can cure all kinds of ailments that modern medicine can’t; they can extend your life. They can do all these things and it’s not magic, it’s their sort of ancient wisdom.
So in that way I knew I had it. Right then.
The second thing was that sense of who would you pledge.
This idea of how scary the story would be not just because the monsters were scary, but because they are waiting for you to come to them and that people would be the reason that this terror began, because they wait there for you to give or pledge somebody to them and then the story really begins.
So you have to go to them with this selfish thing in your heart before they really emerge and come to your house to get you or get the person you pledged to them. So that sense of it being a story about guilt and about selfishness and about greed and about being a parent deeply as well.
The story focuses on this family, the Rooks family and the main characters are Charlie Rooks, who’s this graphic novel author; his daughter, Sailor, who’s thirteen and his wife Lucy, who’s a nurse.
This sense of the wonders and terrors of being a parent and how being a parent means you don’t get to live for yourself a lot the time, you live for your children and that’s wonderful, but what if you want to be selfish? What if something happened to your child? What if your child was sick? Would you give them the terrible kid across the way to make your kid better? All of those things, those questions I knew were going to be great story fodder for me. it would allow me to get to material that’s personal and scary and wrenching. And once I knew I had that I knew it was a go. I knew had the series in my head.
Based on the first issue alone, you can see that the Rooks family has a lot going on; they all have their own secrets and agendas. You could see how any of them could possibly want to make an offer to the primeval in the forest.
Oh yeah. Everybody has secret wishes. Everybody has, not just them, but you’ll see in the book, the town has secrets. The cool part of the wytches to me is they’re faceless. You see them. You see them in issue #2. I love the design of them, they’re huge and frightening. But they’re alien, not aliens, they are from here, they’re some kind of mutation of humanity, evolutionary offshoot.
But at the end of the day, they are alien to us and unfamiliar and don’t speak to us. There’s just this ancient thing out there. That is scary to me. They’re a force. They’re out there.
Did you do any research did you do before starting the project?
Both Jock and I did research on witchcraft and witches. But the funny thing is most of the books are sociological.
They are either sort of about folklore where there will be lists of witches from different cultures which is interesting from the Baba Yaga to other more flung witch interpretations. One is a serpent that leaves it’s skin and sucks your soul through your toes at night.
But they’re either folkloric or sociological where they are about a persecution of people for political reasons, for religious reasons, for cultural reasons that were thought to be witches.
So they were helpful in the way of seeing what’s out there, but at the same time, our wytches and the kind of story we’re telling, I think it wound up being sort of invigorating that there wasn’t a lot of research that would really overlap with what we wanted our wytches to be like in this book.
We realized we were doing something different.
You and Jock previously did some amazing work on Detective and he’s joining you on this book. Did you come up with the concept and then offer it to Jock later or was he attached from the very beginning ?
No one else was ever offered this series. It was always Jock. The same way with The Wake with Sean Murphy. For me it was, “this is his series. When he takes it or hopefully when he’s able to do it we’re doing the together”. So that was always the belly of the idea. So I told him that about a year and a half, two years ago. And he was like, as soon as I’m free. So it really was as soon as he was free and I was free. And there’s nobody better for this story. There just isn’t a better artist for this.
There’s just this sense of uneasy that he creates. He’s so good at terror. And he’s also so good at this ominous, creepy menace. And he can do very tender scenes too but there’s this unsettling quality to the angles he chooses to the roughness and the shadows. Sometimes the sketchiness. It’s all very destabilizing; when you read it, it makes you feel on edge and it’s perfect.
You’ve stated that Wytches will follow other Image series and run essentially as a series of individual arcs. Are there going to be recurring characters and story lines, or is each one contained?
There are going to be characters that recur in the second arc, so not everyone will die . I promise, we’re not going to kill everybody (laughs). We have had a small disagreement about whether more than a couple of people survive. I’m a little darker than him about saying we can go blacker in it. I’m sure a couple of people will make it out (laughs).
Bruno Bettelheim in his book, The Uses of Enchantment, suggests that, “children need dark stories to deal with their inner turmoil and fears about life and death”. What are your thoughts on the importance of fear.
That’s a great question. I’m reading The B.F.G. right now with my son who’s seven. He wanted to read The Witches, obviously, the Roald Dahl book because he knew I was writing about witches but I thought that might be a little scary for him. So we’re reading this.
My feeling, I loved horror as a kid. Some days I worry if it sort of exasperated some of the anxiety that I struggle with a little bit. I know they’ve done studies of those things, but at the same time, I think dealing with your fears as a child (and don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t give a kid Wytches, our book.), this is no way to say that children should see things that are gruesome or anything inappropriate, but I was always a fan of the stories like Roald Dahl’s The Witches and The B.F.G. and you look back at Poltergeist, Gremlins, The Goonies and movies that were PG when we were kids and they were scary.
There was a sense of danger and terror that yeah, they were scary, but they were also the stories that resonated with me.
You see that the world is a dangerous and spooky place. Kids have those thoughts all the time. My seven year old, the things he asks about dying and his fears, you see. And in some ways scary stories that resolve and are ultimately happy, you run the gauntlet of terror and you come the other side with this sort of affirmation that things will be okay somehow.
It’s hard as a Dad to know how much is too much. There are certain things that he wants to see or read or do. For instance he wants to see things like the Marvel movies and for me there’s an element that maybe it’s too violent or he wants to see Spider-Man 2 and I think Gwen Stacy dying would be a lot for him to handle. On the other hand, a book like The B.F.G., there are children being eaten by giants. Where do you draw the line? I feel as a parent you’re constantly struggling with that. I wish I had a better answer for you for kids.
I can tell you for adults at least for me I think that scary stories have always been the most potent. Like I was saying to you before, coming up against the things you’re afraid of and actually having to look at them and wrestle with them. And not just monsters, but what those monsters represent about cataclysm or about mortality, about selfishness or greed or any of those kinds of things is incredibly important. It’s often the way to make sense about a lot of the things that are too scary to look at in other ways until you can or have to.
How are you celebrating Halloween?
I’m actually going out with my family. We always go trick or treating and this year my son wants to go as a zombie family.
Last year we went as Adventure Time, I was the Banana Guard, he was Finn and Jake, he had an inflatable Jake he rode and my littlest son was Lumpy Space Princess and my wife was Marceline.
This year we’re gonna go full on horror, a zombie suburban family. We’ll throw a little blood on the baby.