Every time I see a new creator-owned book launched, I always enjoy reading the author’s letter to the reader in the back. There are often sincere and grateful peeks into the creative journey behind a book’s birth. You get to see the writer in a very stripped down way, and you get to compare how you feel about what you just read to how the creator feels.
The letter at the end of Wytches #1 is one of the best I have ever read. Scott Snyder takes us along the path he took to generate the world of Wytches; a path that started when an 11 year old Snyder and his childhood friend, Ryan, would go hunting for witches out in the woods.
The story of Wytches’ birth is brilliant, not only because we see a dissection of where stories come from, but because we see a dissection of where horror comes from.
The comic is centered on the Rook family and, more specifically, their young daughter, Sailor. The family has moved to a rural area looking for a fresh start. Sailor is nervous about her first day at her new school, but not for the same reasons you and I might be anxious about it. She is worried that her new classmates will know. Know why she had to leave her old school. Why she needed that fresh start.
As far as a plot goes in this issue, that’s really all that can be said without giving the meat of the experience away. This is a first issue, after all, and it’s not as much about expressing a narrative as it is about constructing a soul. Wytches #1 builds feeling and personality with incredible immediacy.
The very first page is the dictionary definition of “witch”, and page two is that same definition clawed away by feral hands. Right away we are meant to see that this story is not about the witches we think we know. These Wytches are all their own.
The way the world is built beautifully echos the way Snyder’s letter describes his adventures with Ryan in the woods. Initially, the setting is innocent. Snyder and Ryan’s Calvin-and-Hobbes-like adventure of juvenile imagination runs along with the Rook’s hope for a new beginning, but from there the purity begins to bleed out.
The letter tells how Snyder and Ryan began to find eerie things like boxes of fake teeth, rotted out old cars, bones, and, on one occasion, a hidden grave yard. The safe, childlike nature of their escapades began to wane, and so does the initial serenity of Wytches.
At one point in the comic a stray fawn finds its way into the Rook household. The family is charmed by this novel little joy. The joy drains when the baby deer starts coughing up its own organs, plopping them out onto the hard wood floor.
Wytches doesn’t even let you enjoy baby woodland creatures. It wants to rob all the safe little places you think you have and leave you with only Lovecraft for a bed time story. But it does this without feeling like it is abusing you. It teases you with peace and slowly shows you that comfort is only a scab that can be peeled back to show you the festering gore beneath.
The letter and the comic continue their slowdance together when it comes to the reveal/tease of the titular “wytches.”
During one of Ryan and Snyder’s excursions into the forest, Ryan became frightened when he believed he saw a real witch: An immensely tall and ancient looking figure peaking from behind the trunk of a tree. The event sucked the spirit out of the children’s trips into the woods and they soon stopped.
The comic builds on the idea of Wytches being creatures hiding amongst the trees. It makes the benign plants foreboding, adding an edge to a walk in the woods, or the shadow an elm cast against your bedroom window.
Light on plot but heavy on atmosphere, Wytches #1 shows narrative maturity by not giving it all away up front. It’s patient, calculated, and reading it feels dangerous. It’s like looking into the mouth of a dark cave. All you can see is darkness, and all you can do to convince yourself that you are brave enough to enter.