With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we visit one of the most horrifying comics in recent memory.
Scott Snyder and Jock started their partnership with the critically acclaimed Batman: Black Mirror. However, the duo truly made their mark on the comics industry as a team with their Image Comics miniseries Wytches alongside color artist Matt Hollingsworth, and letterer Clem Robins. The horrifying first volume of the series was a huge hit, with a follow-up on its way very soon.
When the Rooks family, Charlie, Lucy and Sailor, move to rural New Hampshire to get a fresh start, they think they’ve found paradise away from the tragedy that drove them there. However, they’re about to discover something lurks in the woods. Something horrible, powerful… and hungry.
Tony Thornley: So B, I’ve introduced you to a couple horror books before, but I think this is the one that’s most right up your alley. We get the story here of Charlie and Sailor Rooks, a father and daughter duo who’s been through some of the worst life has to offer. Yet what they find in their new home in New Hampshire is absolutely beyond imagination.
It’s bloody, it’s scary, it really screwed me up for a few weeks after I read it. What did you think?
Brendan Allen: That very first sequence pulled me in. This is one of the darkest things I think you’ve sent me, and I love it. There is a lot of that ick and gore, but the characters are fantastically flawed and realistic, which is what makes the thing really work. So much emotional damage, but they come by it honestly, and the interactions all make sense (eventually) in the context of each player’s baggage headed into it.
TT: Oh definitely. This is a story that is firmly rooted in its characters, so what you said about emotional damage? That’s exactly the core of it all. Charlie is trying his best to be the best dad to Sailor, who is deeply traumatized when she witnesses something attack her violent bully. Without that relationship, this story means nothing, there’s no tension or horror to it. Snyder knows that and absolutely NAILS this relationship. Despite the supernatural surrounding them, they are fully formed people on the page, and that’s what keeps the story absolutely engrossing.
BA: I think this, right here, is the beauty of this column. I honestly probably wouldn’t have picked up this series if you hadn’t dropped it in queue. Scott Snyder is well known for his work on Batman, and if you had told me he was this brilliant at building and pacing a psychologically charged horror piece, I wouldn’t have listened. I am duly impressed.
The first chapter sets everything up brilliantly, and then every piece that falls sets up the next one beautifully, until that final pop, and holy hell, it’s a doozy.
TT: Definitely. Snyder is a master of pacing, which I knew before I picked this up (I loved his American Vampire, and really enjoyed his Batman) but this is a whole other level. It’s a slow build of interpersonal relationships, setting, world and mythology building, all with this incredibly tense undercurrent of horror. Then when things go to hell, it’s just about better than any scary movie I’ve ever seen.
The art is so crucial to that too. Jock and Hollingsworth are such a good team that sometimes I forget that there’s more than one artist on this series. Jock’s sketchy style is a great fit for horror, and his design for the Wytches is terrifying. I cannot imagine this series being done by any other line artist. But Hollingsworth… I genuinely can’t think of a horror comic I’ve read where the colors were such a crucial part of the storytelling.
BA: The most terrifying monsters, and the goriest splatter are two dimensional and bland without a great colorist. There’s a visual tension throughout this book, not just in the action scenes, or the dark underground struggles, but in the daylight moments. The spots where everything should feel safe and mundane. It never feels safe.
TT: For sure. Like the swimming pool scene in the second issue! Sail has been attacked by the Wytches, leaving a literal scar behind, but life has gone on. It feels mundane and normal. Then she dives into the pool, and Jock twists the world around her, with panels distorting and twisting, her scar turning gnarly… Then Hollingsworth comes in and adds this unnatural blue overlay, with bloody red splotches… It’s such amazing work, and it just gets better as the series goes on.
BA: You mentioned the overlays. Some of those red washes of blood and spatter look like they’re ON the page, not in it. It’s a very unsettling effect that’s well played. Like, you want to wash your hands after handling the thing.
TT: Yeah, it just feels grimy. Another thing I really enjoy here is the setting. Even though Snyder explicitly places it in rural New Hampshire, the story makes it feel universal, and not in a good way. It feels like this thing could happen any time anywhere there’s a forest for the Wytches to be hiding out in. In my opinion, that’s one of the scariest things that the entire creative team does in these six issues.
And then the twist. You actually messaged me the moment you hit the twist. That was one of the most effective and terrifying horror twists I think I’ve ever encountered. It was actually what I remembered best from reading it years ago.
BA: It was. Out of nowhere. Loved it.
TT: Totally, but in a way that made perfect sense. Everything came together in that one chilling moment that can’t help but make you sit back and say “damn.”
BA: The language I use is a little more colorful, but yes, that is the general consensus.
TT: We’re not even going to hint at it, because if you’ve never read the series, you need to experience it completely fresh for just that moment. So I think the verdict on this one is pretty obvious.
BA: I liked it. A lot. I was actually a little bummed when I saw the dates and realized there’s just the one arc. This one could have played out in several different venues, and throughout different periods. It’s pretty brilliant that way.
TT: Snyder and Jock are actually working on the next volume! There was a prelude one-shot released last year. I think Volume 2 was supposed to hit in October of this year, but that was pre-COVID, so who knows. Volume 2 is going to be a direct continuation, I think, but the one-shot took place about a decade before this story.
BA: Word. I’m so ready to see what these maniacs have in store for us.
TT: What’s on tap next?
BA: You’re always saying how much wrestling storylines remind you of your capes books. So, let’s talk about that. I’m kicking you one of BOOM! Studios’ WWE arcs, The Sami and Kevin Show by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and Serg Acuna. This is a good one. Not just for the execution by Hallum and Acuna, but it’s a really great example of how modern pro wrestling storylines acknowledge real life events, while bending them to fit kayfabe.
TT: Sounds like fun!
Wytches Vol.1 is available now from Image Comics in comic book stores, your local bookstore and your favorite digital retailer.
We’d like to ask, on behalf of our friends and colleagues that own and are employed by comic shops, that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.