You’ve got a handful of pages to prove your concept, to introduce your character, to get your hooks into your reader and keep ’em coming back for more. How do you handle it? In The Art of the Start, we look at first issues, be they new originals, fresh story angles, or total reboots. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
It’s October, and that means that we turn to all things spooky… including a couple of haunting debuts featuring some witchy women.
Now, horror comics have a rich history, but comics horror has always been tricky. Because you’re “reading” sequential images, writers can’t pull out the bag of cinematic tricks that filmmakers often use to captivate and terrify. I’m talking about tense pacing, the jump scares, the audio cues… everything that makes you jump and scream in the theater.
… elements that work very well in Image Comics’ Wytches #1, created by Scott Snyder and Jock.
The comic opens with a woman trapped in a hollow tree. It’s an odd first page, moodily depicted with messy splashes of color (Matt Hollingsworth’s splatter-y colors work exceptionally well here, evoking colorful horror films like Suspiria) that helps to make us confused as to what we’re seeing.
On the following page, we see the woman has had her nose cut off. Another chilling image.
And what follows next is a quick sequence in which we establish that this woman has a son, and… well, I don’t want to spoil your reading, but you guys all know how creepy kids can be. It’s a well executed opening that establishes the stakes for the reader (while instilling a healthy fear of trees).
That whole opening sequence is accomplished in just four pages, leaving Snyder plenty of time to introduce us to the main cast of the book: teenager Sailor Rooks, her father Charlie (a YA book author/illustrator), and Sailor’s mom, Lucy (who, frankly, doesn’t have much character in this issue, but… let’s give it time). Sailor is worried about school, and unlike last week’s Gotham Academy, we actually get a full flashback into WHY Sailor is scared. In a relatable but creepy sequence about bullies, Sailor witnesses something she can’t even comprehend.
And it’s going to come back to haunt her.
All of the elements are here for a compelling and creepy read. Questions of power (What if something happened because I wished it to happen?), a fear of being an outsider (What if the kids find out about my past?), and a fear of the unknown (and, y’know, trees) all coalesce into a compelling and creepy read with clear stakes and a pressing mystery that practically drags you (kick and screaming) into the next issue.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 comes from Archie Comics, but if your memories of a teenage witch involve Melissa Joan Hart on the TV, you’re going to need to steer yourself a little more toward American Horror Story before reading. Sabrina is definitely not the plain vanilla to Wytches’ rocky road, but it also takes a slightly different tack with its setup, and it didn’t work quite as well for me.
We open a year after the end of Rosemary’s Baby birth of Sabrina Spellman, as Sabrina’s mother attempts to steal her infant daughter away from the witches’ coven that is caring for her. It’s a creepy sequence that works without a knowledge of 60s and 70s horror movies, but… I’ll just be honest, this book is totally in love with that era, and you’re going to dig this stuff if your tastes run toward Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, Carrie, and the like.
It’s also worth noting that Robert Hack’s art and colors in this issue really complement the creepy tone of the opening. Motley Halloween oranges and blacks pop with bursts of reds and yellow to cast the whole book in a moody Jack O’ Lantern light.
The next sequence of pages has several time jumps, and this is where the story starts to sag a little bit. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is getting us to his version of Sabrina’s status quo — high school, talking cat, witchy aunts, but these short, plot-driven sequences feel a little like necessary links in the chain, and there wasn’t a lot to connect me to Sabrina’s character.
However, once Sabrina enters high school, things begin to settle into an interesting place. This is less “scary” and more “coming-of-age and “cautionary tale of power utilizing elements of weird fiction,” as Sabrina debates using magic on cute boys.
The creepiness of the opening kicks back in at the end of the issue, as (an unnamed) Betty and Veronica of Riverdale mess with black magic and summon some sort of entity that gives us a pretty grisly final image… a Big Bad that we assume Sabrina will tangle with soon…
Horror fans definitely need to check out Wytches, but if you’re a fan of Lovecraftian weird fiction and teenage dramas, then The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina looks to summon up the doom you’re looking for.