Wytches 1 - coverThe first issue of Wytches is a striking thing. Part of what I’m thinking of as a current strain of graphic-design-influenced comics, it uses layout and a rich play of digital colouring and texture to create something really quite unusual. It’s also heavily infused with a kind of Southern Gothic creepiness, the vibe of small communities and close-pressing forests that is absolutely my narrative catnip.

The cover and initial pages look a bit Dave McKean does the Blair Witch Project, but orders of magnitude better than that sounds. It’s actually pretty unsettling from the off – a dark, surreally shaded woodland, an eye through a knothole, then a mouth – teeth bared, screaming from inside the trunk of a tree. It’s all overlaid with a kind of matrix pattern of dots; not grandma’s golden age halftones – though the nod is unmistakable – but something more digital, pixel-ish, or like the surface of a touchscreen. Inky colour splashes sit over that, pulling the eye, suggesting light in places, mood and motion in others.

Then a small boy smashes his mother’s face with a rock.

“Pledged is pledged” he says, looking back, sad-defiant. His mother has been pledged to “them”, and clearly they are terrible, and there are rules.

It’s not nice, and then we jump to the present, and a self-consciously dorky dad comforting a teenage daughter with a story about hippogriffs. Specifically, about killing hippogriffs by planting dynamite “in their butts”.

Yeah.

The entire colour tone shifts. The digital artefacts are there, and the funky panel composition, but the borders are stronger, the colour splashes absent. It’s lighter across the board. This is Sail’s first day at a new school. She’s moved with her family, to get away from something, and of course the entire school knows. Yellow school bus, awkward glances, first friendships,  questions in class, “So, did you kill that girl or not?”

Wytches packs a lot of jumps and gear changes into one issue, and it would be exhausting if it weren’t so well done. The cute deer that wanders into the house, then dies keening, retching blood?

Disgusting. Fantastic.

Wytches 1 - deer

The wailing noise follows on from Sail’s flashback to the horrible thing she’s running from, straight over the page, from eerie jump scare to jump disgust.

Then we slow down. Sail’s dad puts her to bed with comforting words. parents talk. The story begins to decompress a little, just in time to make us aware that there’s something uncanny outside in the darkness.

Snyder’s a horror/gothic veteran, of course, and Severed garnered praise for tone and atmosphere. In the back matter of Wytches, he talks about the inspiration – walks in the woods as a child, mistaking gnarled trees for something unnatural. It’s a good read itself, and he’s packed the ambience into issue one.

That first issue is all we’ve got to go on, but from it, Wytches is going to be excellent. It’s delightfully unsettling, the design is beautiful, and the colouring really makes it all hang together.

Wytches 1 - tree