Thought Bubble: Wytches by Scott Snyder
You enter a spiny forest. It’s dark and the trees are hard to distinguish from scratches and textures on the page. Layers of grime stand between you and the landscape while also simultaneously drawing your eye to a hole in one of the tree trunks. Suddenly an eye stares back at you, followed by a desperate cry, “...Please...please help me!” The view switches to inside the arboreal prison only to reveal a bloody, noseless woman in hysterics claiming, “they’re coming,” as an acutely ominous sound pierces through the darkness. As the woman, now revealed to be a mother, tries to squeeze herself out through the hole whilst begging for her son to pick up a rock and help, it’s learned that she has been mysteriously pledged. All is lost. “Pledged is pledged.”
Modern day and we join a father and daughter, Charlie and Sailor, playfully discussing the ways to defeat all kinds of mythological creatures while waiting for a bus to take her to school. Sail suffers from attacks of anxiety and she uses the slayer mythos as a coping mechanism to divert attention, and it appears she has a past that may be causing the episodes; a past that also seems to be the talk of the town.
Obviously a loner, being the new kid and subject of rumours and all, one girl approaches the taboo and asks if what she heard is true. It's then that a flashback reveals an altercation between Sailor and a vicious bully called Annie. It's an altercation in which Sailor wants an end to the suffering, and although the confrontation brings an end of some kind, suffering is something that she hasn't seen the last of.
Toil and trouble
Wytches is written by Scott Snyder and remains to be one of my favourite writers in the space (if you’ve not read Severed I fully recommend that you do). What I like about him is ability to make the characters relatable in unrelatable situations. He does this via manifestation.
Sail is a girl with problems that stem out of tragedy and these problems manifest in anxiety, but Snyder doesn’t stop there as he portrays the Wytches themselves as a physical manifestations of anxiety. In the Wikipedia entry for Wytches), Snyder says he took inspiration from a childhood experience in Pennsylvania, and after years of living elsewhere, returned to the area only to be tricked into seeing a mysterious figure in the forest that he surmised had been patiently waiting for him to return after many years.
There’s a somewhat eerie similarity between the Wytches’ ability to influence the pledges behaviour when compared to the seemingly relentless controlling power of anxiety over the mind. Both feel terrifying and take you to dark places, either physically or emotionally, and yet there’s something unavoidable and inevitable about both situations. You can even see this play out through Sailor’s diary entry as anxiety gradually overtakes her mind and physically manifests on the page.
The family has a tragic past that haunts their every waking moment and yet their home life doesn’t really help matters. Charlie is an unsure comic book writer who challenges his own decisions at every turn while Sail’s mother, Lucy, has her own demands after becoming disabled in a motor accident around the same time as “the incident.” It’s achingly clear that Charlie tortures himself over what happened a few years prior, and with all of the strange events surfacing around the family now, his desperation to make up for past mistakes seem destined for modern failure. It’s here where Snyder’s use of the flashbacks really helps to define the characters.
Past tribulations act as experience to help drive the character’s motivations, and by coupling the flashback cells next to the modern day story, you really get a sense of what causes the characters to act in that way.
Of course the story is only one piece of the puzzle, the art is something else. Drawn by Jock and coloured by Matt Hollingsworth, the art for Wytches sits as some of my all-time favourite work. Jock is a firm favourite of mine due to his energetic line work and and expressive character design, it’s absolutely no wonder he was snapped up by Disney/Lucasfilm to help visualise costumes and characters in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Colourists I’m less familiar with when it comes to retaining names, but having checked out Hollingsworth’s other projects, I see he’s contributed to some of my other favourite artwork, Tokyo Ghost. Together these two create work that’s both dark and hopeless in its intent, but is alive with energy and splattered with tainted toxicity.
There’s something very experimental about the art of Wytches. It would feel very comfortable sitting on a coffee table next to a Ray Gun magazine while the Se7en opening title sequence was playing on the TV, but essentially the aesthetic fits with the narrative and Wytches just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Wytches is a tale about dealing with the looming threat of anxiety. It’s about the monkey on your back that takes all of your will to shake off. It’s about regret and mistakes, but ultimately it’s about a relationship between a father and daughter. The constant threat against the family and the desperation of a father to ameliorate the situation makes for a terrifying and heartbreaking read, especially in the closing pages, but don’t be put off. The journey may be dark and full of terrors but it’s a worthwhile one nonetheless.
We all have to deal with our own Wytches. They stand outside in the dark waiting for a moment of weakness so they can strike when our guard falls, but with a little bit of luck and a pledge of determination, maybe we won’t end up boiling in the cauldron like many before us.
Wytches Volume 1
Published by Image Comics</td>
Written byScott Snyder
Art by Jock
Colourist Matt Hollingsworth
Originally released October 2014