Scott Snyder (w)
Matt Hollingsworth (color)
Clem Robins (letters)
Between reading Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods (review to come) and Snyder’s first issue of his new horror comic Wytches, the deep, unnerving terror that the woods evoke is at the forefront of my mind. Both books bring out that terrified inner child that you think your rational adult mind has overcome.
Wytches opens with a single black page with the definition of witch in a bold, white typewriter font. On the next page, the definition is scratched through. I was immediately hooked. How is Snyder going to redefine the notion of the witch in this series? What is he going to bring to the table regarding this ancient myth?
The story begins in 1919 in the woods. A woman is trapped in a tree. Her nose has been removed, and bright red blood coats her jaw in vivid contrast to the dark blacks and browns of the trees and the turquoise-blues of the background. The woman calls out for help as the tree attempts to consume her. Her young son arrives. She begs for his help and explains that “someone pledged me to them.” Her son then bashes her head in with a rock and says “pledged is pledged.” A hand with long fingernails reaches from within the tree and wraps itself around the woman’s bloodied face.
Cut to 2014 at Rooks Farm. We meet Sailor (Sail) and her father waiting for the school bus. Sail is about to embark on her first day at a new school. On the bus, Sail sees a man in the woods repeating “Pledge?”
Back home, Sail’s parents, Charles (notably, a comic book artist) and Lucy, are working in their office when a doe appears, begins screaming, and spits out its own tongue. At school, Sail discovers the locals are familiar with the reason why her family had to relocate. Rumor is that Sail killed a classmate, but in a flashback scene, we see that Annie, a frequent bully of Sail, threatens her with a gun. As Sail is about to be coerced by Annie into performing a truly deplorable act in order to save her own life, arms rip out from a tree and, in a shower of blood and gore, pull Annie into the tree.
Later, in conversation with her father, Sail reveals that she feels responsible for Annie’s disappearance because she wished for something to happen to Annie. In annoyance, Charles tells her that “Thinking about doing something and doing it aren’t the same thing, at all.”
As Sail attempts to go to bed that evening, she hears her name being called outside her window. She looks out to see a figure with blood dripping from it’s mouth lurking in the trees as it makes a “cchit, cchitttt, chittt” sound. Sail realizes it is Annie. This is where the comic book medium is superbly used. The arrangement of the panels and the artwork build suspense and terror in such a way that you can hear the chattering, grinding sound of Annie’s teeth and feel Sail’s terror as your own.
Charles and Lucy hear a scream, and Charles rushes upstairs to Sail’s room. Outside the man that Sail saw on the way to school is crouched in the front yard staring at something on the ground that appear to be claws or teeth. In the final panel, Charles is at Sail’s door exclaiming “My God,” and I am left crying out “nooooo” at the idea of having to wait until the next issue to find out what happened.
Let’s talk about the art. The art in Wytches is stunning and uncomfortable. Angles are sharp and defining, but what truly shines is the coloring. Colorists often go unnoticed in comics or are conflated with the inker, but colorist Matt Hollingsworth reminds you of why colors are equally important. Instead of relying on the typical dark neutrals with the occasional splash of red common to horror narratives, Wytches is bright — the color palette largely primary colors. It creates a strange sort of dissonance between the story and the art. Horror isn’t limited to dark corners and shadows, it is everywhere — in full light, in the space of your day-to-day.
Snyder spends several pages at the end of the issue explaining the creative origins of Wytches. As a child, he spent many hours hunting for witches in the woods near his weekend home in rural Pennsylvania. Upon returning to the area years later, Snyder was startled by a shadow that turned out to be a tree (not a witch, unfortunately), but it got him thinking about how, despite the years between being a child and becoming an adult, it felt like the witch has “ALWAYS been there.” Thus, Snyder’s witches, or wytches, are not the spell-casting witches of lore, but representations of “ancient” and “primal” evils.
Clearly, Wytches emerges from a deeply personal space, and perhaps that what makes it so unnerving. Snyder is tapping into childhood fears, ones many of us share and can recall experiencing in some form or another. He is reminding us that these fears still lurk at the corners of our vision and that they are not limited to childhood.
My only critique: I was somewhat frustrated with the presence of Lucy, Sail’s mom, who was depicted in a wheelchair. At first, the story seemed to present Lucy as a character in a wheelchair, but then it turned to the usual character-in-a-wheelchair-trope where a mysterious “accident” is mentioned in hushed tones. I find this tiring and limiting to the representation of individuals who use wheelchairs. However, Lucy is shown alongside Charles in the office, and I am hoping she will get to be more than a wheelchair-bound character who was in a terrible accident.
5 out of 5