The release of the first volume of Scott Snyder’s Wytches has been garnering a lot in the way of positive press. If you like Stephen King, a great many of them essentially run, you’ll love this. The book also comes with a quote from the great man himself (which, yeah, we know, King isn’t backward about coming forward when it comes to the old cover quote, but still – a King cover quote is a King cover quote): “It’s fabulous. A triumph.” A lot of the reviews also make much of the art by Jock. It’s quite distinctive (especially paired with the ‘coloring’ by Matt Hollingsworth – the trade gives you a glimpse of Jock art pre-Matt so you can see what Matt brings to the party). We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Story first. The Rooks family have moved to a new (small) town after a bit of family disquiet. There’s mom, doc in a wheelchair, dad, illustrator of children’s books, and Sail, teenage daughter who – the kids on the schoolbus whisper – might actually have killed someone. Sail was being bullied, and the bully was quite a nasty piece of work, who, you know, was kind of swallowed up by some trees. In front of Sail. Not too many people buy the whole ‘the bully was eaten by trees’ line. Before we get to the end of issue 1, a deer has sicked up what looks like an aborted foetus onto the living room floor, a bald lady has taken to arranging teeth in the back garden and what might be the ghost of Sailor’s bully is sitting the tree. Horror Movie 101 you might say.
From here, Sailor gets a growth on the side of her neck (anyone who has seen Richard E Grant’s How to Get Ahead in Advertising will already be worrying for Sailor by this point), we learn a few things about her dad’s back story (he’s a man with a drinking problem who labours under the apprehension of having let his family down), the bald lady starts to assert herself (clueing us in to some of the town’s and the family’s own back story) and we are treated to some odd, mysterious, spooky and downright unpleasant sights (ranging from an underwater vision of bloodspattered trees to wires in bellybuttons).
It’s intriguing to be sure but not entirely faultless. There is a fair bit of jumping about – between where we are, figuratively speaking, and where the family were, and it isn’t always done as well as it could be (certain pivotal scenes like what Sail’s mum hit if she didn’t hit a deer) only really gel on a second reading (which, hey, is fine, books like these repay repeated readings) – but the larger issue is that the narrative’s jumps are not helped by art and colour that treat each epoch the same. The readers could be thrown a fricking bone, you know? This is particularly acute when Sail disappears in the middle of the book. The narrative is as skittish as an unhaltered colt. Settle down, you want to say as we flash back to a weird (and, as a parent, I have to say wildly unbelievable) scene on an old Ferris wheel (a point I make in the full knowledge that, hey, if I’m upset by plausibility in a comic about witches, for Christ’s sake, maybe the issue is with me – point taken).
And while we’re on the subject of the art (we said we’d come back to it): it is distinctive as we’ve said, but it also recalls some of the work of Dave McKean, who (we know) lots and lots of people like but we never have, so whilst (yes) there will be people who LOVE it, we didn’t quite love it (although we didn’t dislike it, either, in the way that we dislike Dave McKean’s stuff). Last but not least, because Wytches coincides with Southern Bastards – a (it has to be said) wildly different comic – the fact that Southern Bastards does small town life so well means that Snyder’s take on small town life suffers in comparison. Ever so slightly.
A handful of niggles aside, though, Wytches undoubtedly shows promise – which is a good thing and under-rated, culturally speaking, where every new thing has to be the best thing ever – at the same time as it continues to affirm Image’s eye for a great comic. We’re not sure where it’s likely to go next (whether there is an ongoing Sailor narrative or whether Snyder is taking a page out of True Detective‘s book and start with a whole new crop of characters remains to be seen), but we will continue to read.
Any Cop?: We’d recommend it with the caveat that not everything has to be the best thing ever. Some things are just good.