[*Major Spoilers for Wytches #6, the conclusion of the first arc of the series, below! Be warned!]
I feel like I'm still in the aftershocks of reading Issue #6 of Wytches as a conclusion to the series' first arc, to step back yet and look at the larger patterns it forms in the reader's psyche. It's a series about human weakness, parenthood, childhood, and really really creepy things that live in the woods who teach us that we are just as creepy as they are, or worse, in a way. Wytches has gained a massive following, and the demographic of readers is rather expansive, engaging many readers in their teens following Sailor's plight but for those who are a little more wizened you'll also see much here to relate to about life crises, personal rehabilitation, and becoming your better self.
Scott Snyder, Jock, Matthew Hollingsworth, and Clem Robins have worked very hard to bring us a high-quality shock to the system, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Issue #6, where so much happens in such detail and so quickly that you probably should read it a few times to catch it all. Interviews about this issue had to wait until after the comic was out because there's simply no way to talk about the issue without crashing into a few, whether it's the fact that Charlie and Sailor do manage to escape from the Wytches burrow, or the mind-bendingly creepy betrayal of Sailor by her own mother, or to add a further extremity to the situation, discovering a huge number of people who have been in on the Wytches' pledges all along. How the situation is resolved depends in part on Charlie, but even more so on Sailor surprising herself and the world around her.
Scott Snyder joins us to talk about the end of the first arc of Wytches, and what's coming up for a second series featuring Sailor.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I was totally freaked out by this final issue of the arc. There were things that I thought would happen, and some of them did, but for the most part I had no idea or intimation about many of the things that happened in this issue. It feels like two or three issues' worth of culminating plot all managing to fit into one.
I think I actually had a nightmare the night after reading this issue because of it, a fact which made me laugh and surprised me.
Scott Snyder: When I was writing Issue #4, I had a dream about being trapped underground. I called Jock the next day and told him.
HMS: Well, underground plays a huge role in this issue too. Charlie and Sailor are trying to get out of the lair. And one of the things I liked about that sequence is that it has internal logic—it takes so long! They wander seemingly forever, three whole pages or so, in that terrifying labyrinth. It wasn't made too easy for them.
SS: Well, we wanted it to feel pretty labyrinthine down there but we also wanted a sense of scope. For me, the mythology of the Wytches is just scratching the surface in this arc. We wanted to give hints that there are deeper rooted stories, literally and figuratively. They see the much bigger Wytches, almost entwined with the roots of the walls. That's something we've been hoping to show for awhile. We want to create a whole genealogy and biology for them where certain ones create different characteristics. Some are more humanoid in feature, some less, and they have different functions in the burrow with their own strange culture.
We wanted to keep them simple in the first arc and be uniform, but having this extensive burrow was a way of conveying to readers that we have a ton more about the Wytches to tell than we've let on in this first arc.
HMS: When you mention different qualities or properties, do you mean that based on their biology, some can heal certain things, and some others? That they have different skills?
SS: They have different functions within the burrow, definitely. Some have the function, as I described to Jock, just to dig, relocate, and move the burrow if it needs to be moved. So their hands are larger. Then there are the hunters who come out of the burrow more often and they are limber. They all have the faces on the side of their head—they've evolved that way. And they all have the eyes to peek around trees like that.
HMS: Oh wow! I didn't realize that was why! Hah! That is so creepy.
SS: The face is in front, and their eyes are on the side, like a Flounder. But otherwise they are pretty different from each other. We've talked about their procreation, as weird as that sounds, their androgyny and how they reproduce. Some of it actually comes into the plot in the next arc, wondering if there is a way to wipe them out or make them extinct.
HMS: When I first interviewed you about Wytches something like a year ago, you spoke about their origin as being "other" and there being a kind of neutrality. It's hard to think of them being "evil" or something like that, and yet, when it comes down to these struggles for survival, the reader isn't rooting for them. Who do you root for, Scott? Do you want the people to win and make them extinct?
SS: I think the thing that's dark about them is that they are predatory and animalistic. They are mirror-like, but the thing they prey on is human weakness. There's something you darkly root for in that because the people who go to them—you want to see them get their comeuppance in some way. And there's always a bill that comes with the Wytches in some form or other. On the other hand, if there's someone who's pledged to them, who's a victim, from that perspective the Wytches become this horrifying thing. For me, the fun part is that they are monsters because they are reflections of us. Some of the stuff that Charlie speaks about and writes about relates to that.
HMS: Regarding Charlie, there's a line in the comic that reminds me of him which says that the Wytches can kind of "smell" when someone's bottoming out. They can "smell" desperation and are attracted to it because they suspect people will make pledges. That's the predatory aspect.
SS: I wanted it to be something like "You become your own haunted house". You attract them, at least the rumor and legend say that they can sense things neurologically. The way certain animals can sense fear, they pick it up and creep towards you in the woods if they feel that. I liked that idea when we first pitched the series, because it makes you culpable. They understand that you are afraid of things. One of the things that Charlie comes to terms with is that you can let yourself down in a lot of ways, you can be afraid, you can be imperfect, especially in terms of your own expectations of yourself. But acknowledging those things with other people makes you realize that it's normal. It's when you keep those things buried, it keeps them festering, and they can get the best of you. I think that's when the Wytches can become very frightening.
HMS: I think Charlie acknowledges in this issue that Sailor has filled that role of helping him realize and be open about his own weaknesses and problems.
SS: Yes, because she was strong when he was failing. For me, having been through something that's not exactly what Charlie has gone through, but something not incredibly far off, one of the things I wanted to get at was that when you have kids, your kids terrify you. You're vulnerable to the world in a way you weren't before. And you hate that sometimes. You don't want to feel so tender in the face of the universe all the time. In some sense, they make you weak and scared, and that can be infuriating. On the other hand, the things you are capable of when you have kids, the things they inspire you to do, and the examples they set when you see who they have become, there's no greater joy or source of strength. So Charlie is saying, "Yes, there was a moment when I was terrified by you. You made me scared and I was angry all the time. But when I step away and look at it, I realize you make me a braver person". In a way, Sailor is his hero and the hero of the series.
HMS: It's interesting, because you say the story is really about Sailor in this very issue, and I can see it is true, but this is a really massive redemption arc for Charlie, too, isn't it?
SS: Yes. For me, he is the protagonist of this particular arc, even though she's the protagonist of the whole series.
HMS: Oh, I see. Yes. That makes perfect sense.
SS: For me, Sailor goes from being afraid of being afraid to being ok with sticking up herself, and becoming the thing they always joked about her being: the slayer of mythological creatures. I needed to give her a robust story, but I also wanted the first arc to be about the terrifying nature of being a parent. I also wanted it to be a story where the father, Charlie, could make one selfless act. He needed to realize it's ok to let go of yourself and live for someone else. I feel like he redeems himself in a way, whereas he was less than perfect before.
HMS: Yes, I really felt that emotionally. You've arranged the structure of this issue, #6, so that there are flashbacks to other significant moments in their lives. Charlie asserts during his book launch in the past that he's come out of the darkness and is on a path of growth, but now in the present, we see him fulfill that. Then you think to yourself, seeing that, "Wow, this is the person he could have always been." He reached that new identity.
SS: For me, it's all one arc, past and present. He made this mistake in the past that triggered all these events with the Wytches. He has one chance to make it up and prove that he is who he seems to be on the surface.
HMS: One of the things in this issue that is the most bone-chilling and emotional for me is the dialogue between Charlie and his wife where says things like, "We won't remember this. It'll be fine". She's basically offering him all of his deepest wishes on a platter. But this is the second time he's faced this test, and this time he passes.
SS: She's basically performing the function of the Wytches and that's what the Wytches can give.
The thing I want to underscore about the Wytches is that everything they give is unnatural. When you're not ok with the world as it is, the way of things, they have remedies for that. It's not natural—you're existing outside of normal processes. To use a potion to make someone fall in love with you or cure a disease isn't natural. If you can't cope with the world as it is—that's what they are there for. She's offering him what she thinks he wants, and everything he might be afraid he wants, so that they can start over. To me, that's the scene I've been dreading writing since the beginning, but also excited to write.
HMS: It's so heavy. That's definitely one of the heaviest dialogue scenes I've seen you write.
SS: Yeah. There's this moment where Charlie turns, and his face is dark. I told Jock I wanted it to be the fulcrum of the whole series. Is he going to come at Sailor? Is he going to be the guy he has been in the past, and she's been afraid he is, or is he going to turn around?
HMS: There's been a lot of talk in comics (maybe always) about how some comics don't have consequences. But this is a series full of consequences. There are serious things happening that are not reversible in this issue.
SS: Oh, yeah, completely. Well the plan always was to take risks with this comic, and move the cast totally off the stage except for Sailor. If this arc really focuses on the terrors of being a parent, the next arc really focuses on the terrors of being a kid. Well, not necessarily a kid, but somebody's child. The next arc has a lot to do with Sailor meeting up with the group that Clara was from, the Irons, and making friends in this group. She's going to discover it's not as easy to let go of your past and your parents as you think it's going to be. I've been surprised that readers of this book are actually fairly young, but for people me and Jock's age, our parents are getting older and some of us are starting to lose them. For Sailor, she's moving away from them. So, we're addressing that. We're trying to do the inverse with the second arc compared to what we did with the first.
HMS: Well, you mention that neurological thing and the connections that people and families form with the Wytches. Sailor is actually still part of that, isn't she? She's on their radar. She can't leave that either. A legacy from her parents.
SS: All the people who have come in contact with the Wytches have this. They'll never be completely free. They'll always be looking over their shoulder.
One of the scenes we did that we actually couldn't fit in this issue was a teaser for the next arc. It was too much to add in after the emotional punch of the issue, so we left it out. But there's a lot of good stuff coming.
HMS: Oh, you have to release that as a teaser for the next arc before it arrives.
SS: Yes, we're working on the next arc already. We're hoping to put it out around October like last time.
HMS: Last question: Has Sailor been changed by this experience? We see her come into her own in this issue, and we feel it to be a good thing that she's become a more active person. But does she hate the Wytches? Is the bitter now? Is she changed in less positive ways as well?
SS: Yes, I think so. For her, one of the things I want to express is that your parents try to protect you from your worst fears all the time, like monsters under the bed. What she's just learned is that not only are those things real, but they are engendered by the people who are supposed to protect you and have told her that they are not real. So she's uncovered this huge hypocrisy as well. Not just in her parents, but in the adults who go around worshipping the Wytches but say there are none.
HMS: Right. Like all the inhabitants of the town who did that.
SS: She becomes somebody who wants to see things the way they are and look at the hard truths herself. She becomes, not exactly cold, since she's still herself, but when you see her in the next arc, you'll see she's much more hardened against any kind of fairy tales. Anything that's not cold, hard truth will be difficult for her to take. That will be a major building block of the next series, because you can't really live your life that way, either.
I'm really thrilled about the next arc. The setting is going to be unconventional, and it opens up a whole map of burrows all around the country. It gets pretty crazy.
HMS: The whole country? Unbelievable.
It's amazing for me to realize now, when I didn't realize it as I was reading the series, that all of this has been an origin story for Sailor.
SS: It is, yes! Entirely. That's a really good way of thinking of it. I hadn't thought in those terms, but it's absolutely right.
HMS: And now we get to see the dimensions of her agency and what she can do.
Make sure to check out Scott Snyder's essay in Wytches #6 too which is very enlightening about the themes of the series and teases the upcoming "pledges" the creative team have made to their readers.