For a guy who writes horror comics for a living, there’s a lot that creeps out Scott Snyder.
In the case of his new Image Comics series, Wytches, the Eureka moment came during a recent visit to the same idyllic rural Pennsylvania home his parents have owned since he was a kid.
“When I was a little kid I was actually terrified to go there because I was confused between Pennsylvania and Transylvania. I was totally convinced the woods there were full of vampires,” says Snyder, the mastermind behind American Vampire and the current run on Batman.
As he grew older, he and a friend envisioned other phantom terrors hiding in the woods — such as Satan worshippers out to kidnap them. But by the time he brought his own children last year, he thought he’d grown past the heebie jeebies inspired by the place. While jogging back to some of his childhood haunts, however, he discovered the place still had a hold on him.
“It was such a windy day, and the trees going back and forth looked very human,” says Snyder. “And I remember this thought emerging, this idea coming to me about a creature.
“What if these things, these people had been lurking in the woods for 20, 30 years not coming after me, but knowing that I’d eventually come back.”
By the time he was done with the run, he had started to flesh out the nightmarish vision of witches that would become the basis of his new series — the first issue of which hits stores on Wednesday — in more vivid detail.
These weren’t going to be the bulbous nose, broom-riding Halloween caricatures. These witches are a cannibalistic, skeletal race that hide in the forest, gifting their naturalistic powers to greedy folk who pledge other people in exchange. And those poor saps are doomed to be food for the creatures.
Teaming up with comic artist Jock — popular enough to go by one name in the biz, like Madonna or Ichiro — Snyder got excited about the idea of tackling a horror monster that hadn’t been saturated modern pop culture like zombies and vampires.
“It was very fun doing the research,” says Snyder. “There are some wacky witches out there (in folklore) such as ones that fly around at night, disembodied and suck your spirit through your toe, which is almost more creepy than anything I could think of.
“Picture this transparent witch suckling your big toe while you’re asleep, that’s something that will you keep you up at night.”
But what makes Snyder such a good horror scribe is that he distills all the things that scare him — particularly as a parent in an era of random school shootings. Some of that unease bleeds into the central storyline of a teenage girl who’s being targeted by the titular creatures, with her father seemingly powerless to help.
“I hope it’s scary,” he says. “It’s certainly scary to me, to make a monster that speaks to my personal fears about the darkest corners of human nature.”