Thursday, December 04, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #338: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Horror doesn't need to have a reason. Horror doesn't need to be logical. Horror just needs to feel right -- to induce that little shiver. And that mood can come out through any kind of story -- prose, poetry, film, song, comics.

I haven't seen all that many horror comics recently, though -- it feels like a dead genre (or maybe one only sleeping, like a Lovecraftian entity) compared to movies and books. But they do spring up every so often, and maybe those few horror comics are that much stronger and more particular for growing in such unfamiliar territory.

Emily Carroll's first book, Through the Woods, is a collection of horror stories: five of them, plus an introduction and a conclusion that are little horror vignettes themselves. And Carroll's horrors are traditional ones -- dark lonely woods, monsters and ghosts, corpses and their killers. But they're also traditional in another way: they're brothers and husbands and sister-sin-law and sisters and friends.

I don't want to dismiss Carroll's stories by calling them domestic, or claiming there's something inherently feminine about them, but...she does evoke real chills, and she consistently does it through those fairy-tale-esque staples of family and friends. The modern horror genre has been constructed by and for young men, but Carroll creates stories as if there were an entirely different tradition: the horrors that most worry young women, of being alone or being subsumed or losing those closest people or turning into something horrible. Her stories are also all historical to one degree or another: the one set closest to the modern day appears to be in the 1920s, and the rest are mostly in a timeless pseudo-19th century.

Carroll's art is lush and finely detailed, equally lovely and horrible when it needs to be. Her pages descend into inky blacks and then explode in splashes of color, with details and outlines picked out carefully in pen. Her hand-lettering is particularly good, emerging directly from the art rather than overlaid on it.

These are creepy stories, stories to make you uneasy and unsettled, stories of things that can't be avoided and some that can just barely be escaped. It's an excellent book for this time of year in my end of the world, as the days grow shorter and colder and everything dies. I recommend it for any readers of the classic Datlow-Windling fairy tale anthologies, or any horror and dark fantasy along those lines.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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