Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Scott Snyder
Release Date: 8th October 2014
“If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise…”
Wytches, the eagerly anticipated creator owned project from Scott Snyder, immediately grabs you by the throat during its stomach-churning prologue and doesn’t let go for the remainder of its thirty (ad-free!) pages. The project, which has been brewing in the cauldron of Snyder’s imagination since his childhood forays into the woods near his home to go “witch hunting” with his friend, manages to build a genuinely unsettling world around main protagonist Sailor Rooks, a young girl who has been forced to move to a new town following the tragic conclusion to a bullying incident at her previous school.
The bulk of this first issue is spent establishing Sailor, fleshing out her backstory and – most importantly – making us care about her, pretty much forcing us to become emotionally invested in what happens to her. Snyder paints her as a sympathetic, engaging character who refuses to let herself become a victim, even in spite of her near-crippling anxiety. Her relationship with her loving family, her graphic novel-writing father in particular, is also genuinely moving, and his clear love and concern for his daughter is difficult not to be caught up in.
The artwork here – a combination of Jock’s scratchy, heavily shaded linework and Matt Hollingsworth’s washed out colour palette – is also a key component in establishing the creeping sense of dread that permeates this book. The sheer horror of Sailor’s experiences at the hands of her bully makes for genuinely uncomfortable reading, and Jock wrings every inch of emotion out of the characters during this tense exchange. The artistic due also come into their own during our brief, fleeting glimpses at the witches themselves, creating some truly disturbing moments in the process. These aren’t your typical ‘hubble bubble, toil and trouble’ witches, folks. These are deeply disturbing, primal manifestations of pure evil – all teeth and talons and ice-cold glares – and the more we see of them, the less we want to see of them, if you get my meaning.
Overall, Wytches ticks absolutely every box you could possibly hope for from a debut issue. Interesting premise? Check. Compelling protagonist? Check. Gripping story that lingers with you long after you’ve put the comic down? Check. When comics are released to such incredible fan hype, like this one, there’s always a risk that the finished product will fall short of the almost impossible expectation. Well, I can happily confirm that is most certainly not the case here. Wytches serves as a slice of genuinely nerve-shredding horror, and a story that guarantees to get under your skin and keep you coming back for more time and time again. Make sure you’re reading it in a well-lit room though, that’s all I’m saying.
In Wytches we are introduced to the Rooks family, who have recently moved in order to give their daughter Sailor “Sail” Rooks a new start. Sail was bullied in her last school and when the bully “disappeared”, everyone blamed Sail for the disappearance. She believes it was the work of some kind of malevolent supernatural entity, but her parents think Sail was delusion from the head injury she sustained. The Rooks’ hoped the distance would be enough to leave the past behind, but whatever Sail saw now seems to be stalking them.
Halloween is still a few weeks away and Image Comics is celebrating early thanks to Scott Snyder, Jock, and Matt Hollingsworth’s latest project Wytches. That’s no typo; this series will redefine what witches/wytches are or are not. As the second page illustrates, our preconceived notions of what we think we know about witches will be torn apart, so hang up your pointy hat and leave your broom behind.
Snyder’s story, Jock’s artwork, and Hollingsworth’s color choices all come together in the first six pages to set the tone, and it’s truly disturbing. I won’t spoil what happens, but the prelude will grab your attention. The story slows down and brings us to the present where we are introduced to our characters Charlie and Sail Rooks. Both are so fleshed out, they feel like real people. Charlie is Sail’s dad and a comic book artist doing the best he can for Sail. Sail is a kid who’s trying to move on after being through a traumatic experience dealing with survivor’s guilt. Lucy her disabled mother doesn’t get much to do but acts as the voice of reason in the house. Once these characters are established, turning the page becomes difficult because you’re anticipating something terrible is about to happen. Sail has been through enough already considering the intense showdown with Annie the bully, which was personally speaking was a bit uncomfortable to read.
Jock’s illustrations bring this world to life. We don’t get to see much of these monsters other than their elongated pale fingers and like the movie Alien, less is more. The color schemes Hollingsworth uses are interesting, but work really well with Jock’s art. The warm bright colors lull you into a false sense of security while the dark cool colors create an unnerving atmosphere for these monsters to hide in. Just look at the cover the photoesque barren forest with a brightly backlit silhouette that would make Agents Mulder and Scully proud.
I’m already not a fan of nature, but this story will have me looking over my shoulder the next time I’m in the woods. If you’re ready to experience that terrifying feeling that you’re being watched pick up your copy on October 8, 2014 before it goes to second print.
At the end of this rather excellent issue, Snyder details the story that inspired him to write it, and it has to be said, the man knows how to spin a good yarn.
The issue itself is no different, laying the groundwork mythology through implication and suggestion and stoutly refusing to tell us anything straight up – Snyder being well aware that it’s the unknown rather than the known that makes things truly terrifying, and this melds beautifully both with his pacing and his fascinating creature concept to create a fantastically creepy tone for the book.
Jock’s line-work is up to its usual standard, although honestly I’m a little uncertain about Matt Hollingsworth’s colouring – when the scene is dark it’s absolutely terrific, particular in the book’s cold, haunting opening, but when the scene is in the harsh light of day, it perhaps feels a little too gaudy, the contrast a little bit too jarring given the nature of the book. Over-all, the artwork does come together, and it nails the essential component of being high impact and creepy, as that’s the only way to truly convey scares in a medium that lacks the ability to create jump-scares – you need to make your creatures and moments memorably unsettling, and the artists pull this off rather neatly.
Whilst it remains to be seen just what’ll be made of it going forward, this is an issue 1 positively brimming with potential and exceptionally detailed horror imagery. Worth a look now, and may well become the essential horror comic come the next few issues.