Story by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
Published by Image Comics
The first story arc of Wytches concludes an unexpectedly resonant note from the author. Although Scott Snyder has made no secret of just how personal this book has been to him, issue #6 conveyed the depth of Snyder’s attachment to the story. This is not like any horror comic you’ve read before.
As he tells this story about a teenage kid with anxiety issues and her parents who struggle to help her, it is clear Snyder is wearing his heart on his sleeve with this project. Sailor’s father, Charlie Rooks, displays a prominent tattoo of a ferris wheel on his upper bicep and is himself a comics creator. The graphic novel Charlie pens, “Night Arcade” shows a young boy wandering through a house of mirrors at a magical amusement park, staring at his own warped image. Charlie’s connection to his ten year old character becomes more overt in issue #4, when we discover a real Ferris wheel to be drunk Charlie’s preferred hangout. His children’s book embodies his own vulnerability in that he’s an adult who has been acting like a child, but feels lost as a parent.
Perhaps one of the more daring risks Snyder takes is breaching the taboo surrounding the horrors of being a parent. He pursues an intense psychological darkness with brutal honesty and treats the characters’ emotional pain with care. Not only does he place Sailor’s anxiety in the very forefront, but he elaborates on his own anxiety problems in the back matter. This book deals with mental health issues directly and in a productive manner. Issue #5, for example, opens with a graphic of a pain assessment. This presence of mental healthcare is essential as it treats Sailor’s anxiety as an illness rather than a character flaw.
It’s not everyday that you see an adult male openly express the shame of his mental or emotional instability. Perhaps that is why Charlie Rooks seems somewhat reminiscent of Jon from Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals who struggles with Opositional Defiance Disorder and ADHD. Snyder discusses horror’s ability to ease his fears as a child and as an adult. The way he addresses his own failings as a parent helps correlate how the wytches function to illuminate the metaphorical actions within the story.
Snyder’s personal essays have been edifying as well in their capacity to demystify Snyder as a writer. His candid confessions feel brazen and bring much-needed relief to an otherwise tense story. His concerns that the book is “too dark” appear unmet as part of what makes Wytches powerful is the authenticity Snyder brings to the raw emotional cruelty we are capable of inflicting. Especially refreshing is his rated-M “mature” handling of the savagery inherent to teenage bullies.
As Snyder himself mentions, this book ain’t light reading. It’s not heavy in a philosophical way but in one that hits you hard in the chest. Although it is not completely clear how Charlie Rooks has floundered in the past as a husband and father, the manifestations of shame he feels for failing to fulfill that role motivate him to seek redemption. Betrayal courses through the book, the ultimate betrayal obviously being pledging someone you love to the wytches for personal gain.
Finally, I cannot conclude this review without mentioning the brilliance that is Jock and Matt Hollingsworth. The art in Wytches is challenging. The hand-painted splatter evokes physical violence that underscores the psychological violence and horror occurring within the text. The effect of this layered neon splatter is akin to the unmistakably dissonant soundtrack of the title sequence to American Horror Story: Murder House. It strikes your nerves with an uncanny ruthlessness, as unnerving as the “chit chit” sound the wytches make. The disordered and often absent frames define the feelings of chaos and uncertainty the Rooks experience as well as those evoked in the reader.
It’s a dark book in tone as well as color and sometimes the figures are unclear or have rough edges. This appropriate form makes visible only what is required to elicit the hint of a character’s shape and attitude. The intensity and unique style of Jock’s art places the story in a strange space, a recognizable world physically altered by the horrors taking place. It is almost as if the pages are washed in fear, the art visually providing the kind of terror that drowns you and keeps you from breathing.
The wytches themselves are totally terrifying. Yet I love that when it comes to facing them, neither Charlie nor Sailor fear the wytches as much as they fear aspects of themselves. That’s part of the reason why the wytches pose such a powerful threat: they cause you to tear yourself apart from within by infecting you with doubt, greed, and in Sail’s case, disease.
It’s true the book does have its flaws, but in comparison to the beauty of its very existence, I’ll just let you judge for yourself. The few imperfections are not reason enough to dissuade any reader from picking up the series. That’s not to mention a few twists that’ll have people staring at you if you read it in public (because you’ll be making audible gasps and sighs). And if you’re not willing to pick up the latest six issues, the trade will be out next month.