Through the Woods

Author and artist: Emily Carroll

Type: Fiction, comic

Published: 2014

I read it: October 2016


A coworker sent me a link to Emily Carroll’s site and for some reason I had forgotten that I actually read one of her stories (“Our Neighbor’s House,” from this collection) in BANR 2015. Either way, I enjoyed the online stories enough to want to check out the print book. It was a good call, even if the book was inexplicably shelved in the teen graphic novels section. I mean… I guess? A teen can handle this level of horror, but nothing about the author’s work indicates that it was written for that audience.

The earliest pages, as in before even the Table of Contents is presented, set a nice overarching tone and thread. A cloaked blue figure wanders a lone path through sparse trees, the moon and clouds trading shades of red. (The whole book is a master class in red and black.) In “An Introduction,” Carroll gives a presumably autobiographical three-page story of a young girl in bed reading and getting nervous about the darkness at the periphery of her bedside lamp.

Then we begin.

“Our Neighbor’s House” is a fine start, featuring three sisters left alone in a cabin near the snowy woods, after their father goes hunting and does not return. The major pieces of Carroll’s work are all here: a recognizable but unspecific time, the justified fear of a stranger, the feel of fable or fairy tale, and, of course, the woods. The story is brief and atmospheric.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold” contains many of the same elements but with the added factor of gruesomeness. This is probably the most traditional ghost story of the bunch. Following that, “His Face All Red” is the sole story that features a male protagonist, a man who kills his brother because he wants a shred of the accolades that his popular sibling receives. This killing is a bad choice, as you might guess, because nothing stays dead for long in Emily Carroll’s visions.

Vision is an apt subject for “My Friend Janna,” possibly my favorite of the bunch. It has an added layer because the characters dabble in seances and communing with the dead, perfectly aware they are pulling off a big hoax. This nod toward realism makes the resulting haunting all that more interesting, and the outcome is creepily and subtly done.

“The Nesting Place” is less subtle, but that’s why it’s the last story. All of Carroll’s stories use a similar pace to build and unravel simultaneously, with a few startling images placed in key locations and the final pages tying a nasty little bow on the overall plot. This last piece takes up a good third of the book’s total pages, which allows for the most numerous and gruesome images of all. You can see how these ideas were built on nightmares.

The artful “In Conclusion” is a mini-story that shows the fate of our earliest protagonist, the girl walking through the woods. Does she get home safe? Carroll’s characters hardly ever do. The scariest thing is the inevitability of their red-bathed downfalls.

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