One of the most popular comic artists in the world right now, Jock began his career with 2000A.D. working on Judge Dredd strips and with Andy Diggle on Lenny Zero. He made his leap to the States in the early 2000s, joining Diggle for The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One (among other books), before pairing with Scott Snyder for the critically acclaimed “Black Mirror” story arc in Detective Comics. He reteamed with Snyder to launch their creator-owned series Wytches last year. To celebrate the release of the first trade paperback of the series, and to kick off our SDCC coverage (which is going to be awesome guys, stick around all week), we got a chance to talk with Jock about the series, its distinctive look and the terror that comes not just from reading it, but from making it as well.
Jim Dandeneau: Congratulations on finishing the first arc. Are you still kind of amazed at how successful it’s been?
Jock: Thanks so much. Yeah, it really has been amazing and it’s completely taken us by surprise. We knew it was a personal, dark story, and that might push the book into the margins. But that was okay, as it was the story we wanted to tell. But the fact it’s been accepted with such vigour really is encouraging and speaks volumes about readers’ appetites at the moment. I’m thrilled you can tell this kind of story and find an audience for it.
JD: Scott’s talked a lot about him pouring his own personal horror into the book – fears about being a parent, specifically. What if any of your own fears go into your art process on Wytches?
Jock: I’ve found with this book I’ve actually felt a lot more comfortable drawing however I want… whatever suits the story at that moment. But that in itself can be scary, because you’re kind of putting yourself on the line. I’m a little looser on this book, and the worry is people won’t respond to it, but it’s been fantastic.
I’ve always been very lucky in my career that I’ve never been asked to change the way I draw – my editors over the years have always been supportive of me drawing in my own style. But even in that position, you sometimes can’t help but be aware that it’s, for example, a Marvel cover. Or Superman. And that needs certain considerations, you know? But with Wytches, I feel 100% comfortable just drawing the script as it comes. Much more instinctual. And I think that readers respond to that honesty. I hope they do.
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JD: What was the most difficult scene to draw in the first arc?
Jock: Maybe not the most difficult scene, but the flashback scene in issue #1, where Sailor is being bullied by Annie — I wanted to make sure Annie looked right… that she looked threatening and the type of person Sail would be scared of. I was pleased with how it turned out – because get it wrong, and these scenes – the ones that really should be pivotal – don’t have the same impact and you’ve lost the thrust of the story.
JD: Your work with Scott has met pretty universal acclaim. Why do you think your partnership with him works so well?
Jock: It’s been great. When he first called me about working on BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR – I had never spoken to him, but I just had a good feeling about him. The way I work is pretty instinctual and maybe the same goes here. I just had a great feeling about it all, and the fact that it’s proved this fruitful is just the icing on the cake. We’re great friends now, and I think that helps too. It is a collaboration, after all. I’ve always tried to have good contact with who I work with, it just makes sense to me.
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JD: Your covers are amazing, but generally very different from your interior work. They’re generally loose and impressionistic, while the sequentials inside are very focused and tight. Is it weird to change gears like that? How different is your mindset when you sit down to do a cover from when you’re drawing the individual pages, or is there no difference at all?
Jock: The WYTCHES covers are very impressionistic actually, but again, it wasn’t really a deliberate thing. It’s just how they came out when I sat down to work on them. It’s so good to have that freedom. I’ve always loved drawing covers, and you’re right, it is a completely different exercise, but I’ve always relished it. I love trying to boil down an entire story into one arresting image.
JD: On the subject of changing gears, you drew a couple of pages of Charles’ illustrated children’s book. Are there any similar style jumps in the next arc?
Jock: We’re planning the second arc now — and haven’t discussed the children’s book, actually… Scott has some great ideas though. Watch this space.
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JD: The same way that Matt’s colors change according to the tension of the scene, so do your panel layouts – the crazier or more horrific a scene is, it seems like more often your panels are slightly askew or even not all the way closed. Are there any other subtle tricks you use with formatting to mess with the reader?
Jock: Yeah, laying out a page is one of my favourite tasks in the process. I love how you can change the speed and flow of a sequence depending on where you place the panels. When Charlie and Sail are in the burrow, I started losing the panel borders entirely… the pages became more collaged. My hope is that the reader no longer feels ‘safe’ within the confines of the panel borders… that there’s always the chance something will jump into the frame. Just trying to use visual tricks to emulate the beats in the story and Charlie and Sail’s situation.
JD: Have you ever redrawn something to be plainer, expecting Matt to make it more horrific?
Jock: Me and Matt talk a lot about approach, so honestly, not really. There’s been a couple times where I feel he could go more, or less, but we’re generally on the same page.
JD: It’s also apparently a deeply personal book for readers. Has anybody written in with a particularly impactful story, one that makes you step back and think “wow, it’s pretty cool that we did this?”
Jock: The letters have actually been incredibly touching and personal actually. So much so that I had to ask if we could publish some of them. It does seem to have struck a chord with people, and I do think it’s basically down to Scott’s honest writing. There were certain points in the script where he’d phone me and say “Is this too much? Have I gone too far??” And they’d always be my favourite points in the story. I think it’s rare to see that honesty – his fears about being a parent, about failing his kids – but it’s actually something I think everyone feels. And if you take the plunge, and share it, people really do seem to respond. I really want to thank the readers for writing in with their stories. We had so many that we didn’t have space to print. But they were all read and appreciated.
JD: Are you excited for the series to shift to the American Southwest? It couldn’t be a more different atmosphere from the dark forests of New Hampshire.
Jock: I can’t wait! I love the simple idea that they start in a desert – “somewhere where there’s no trees!” But how wrong they are in their assumptions that they’ll be safe there… And that imagery is going to be a treat to draw. Stark but atmospheric. Love it.
JD: Is there a kind of universality to the burrows, or do they vary largely by region?
Jock: I had the idea that they would definitely need to be a little different, depending on their location. And the wytches themselves… if they have to burrow through rock and stone rather than soil – what would they look like? Would their limbs be much more gnarled and messed up? I’m really looking forward to exploring.
JD: Thank you so much for talking to us about Wytches, Jock!
Wytches volume 1 is available now through Comixology or at your friendly local comic shop. And be sure to check back here at Topless Robot all week for all of our SDCC coverage – the latest news and updates from the floor, along with exclusive interviews, photos and videos of all the insanity that is CONNNNNNNNNNN!