Emily Carroll “Through the Woods”

It is a tale of a young girl late at night, lying down in bed to read a few horror stories. In order to postpone the moment she has to stretch out her hand over the precipice of the bed to shut off the light – the moment she’d be most vulnerable to the monsters lying in wait to grab her and drag her away.

And that’s the first three pages of the graphic novel. The ones that follow take a bit longer in order to better drag you, the reader, into these weird and fantastical tales of dread and horror, building up to thrilling climaxes. Now, that might make it seem as if the twist is everything, but there are no „Sixth Sense“ kind of „elaborate construction, hinging on one act of illusion“ twists here – these stories tell of people in unreliable relationships starting from a place of abnormal and growing more and more disconcerting as reality is forgotten and the new order of things seems to demand their very being as their fellows, trusted or mistrusted, change roles and shapes as the drawings leave constraints and flow over the borders and across the pages.

In most of the stories we also follow the actions of young women, which does seem to be the norm in horror (at least when talking of horror films, which are more of my forte), but how refreshing it is to read good horror stories that lack sexist sentiments nor resort to naive princessy-characters out of their depths who mostly stay afloat thanks to their American goodliness, and while there is a character somewhat similar to that in here as well, her story is quite a different one from that of horror cinema and closer to a twisted Bluebeard (as if that wasn’t twisted enough).

Let’s stop for a moment on its wonderful visuals that beg to be called beautiful. The whole book is a packet of delights for the eye that enjoys comics which care little about fitting into neat boxes, but use the whole page as a canvas for the emotions of the characters. And while neat boxes are no sin, my eye falls most in love with such as this and Craig Thompson’s „Blankets“ (a graphic novelist telling the tale of his youth), their adventuring drawings turning the story into something magical, and while in „Blankets“ it added an otherworldly dimension to a realistic tale, here it adds an extra layer of strength to stories already dripping with dread.

A word also for Carroll’s typography – the words themselves are part of the tale, not only drawn as an integral part of the image, but changing colour and size and creeping across the page or standing still and cold, just as the story demands in order to enhance the atmosphere.

However, all the pretty drawings in the world would not be enough for a comic to be good and what a wonder it is that Carroll manages to also fit the bill in storytelling – did I say ’fit’? No, she far surpasses it using her drawings to fuel nightmarish tales that linger in my memories. There is more than a touch of fairy tale to them, but not the kind of pretty morals, but the kind that keeps you up in night, fearing what moves behind the windowpanes.

Now, I feel that even though I have described Carroll’s ability to combine drawings, typography and top-notch storytelling into a masterful gothic graphic novel, filled with dread, atmosphere and beauty, I still haven’t emphasised enough how much I recommend it. It was a book I purchased almost on a whim, looking for unconventional comic books of horror, and amongst the few I selected (and of them several I liked), this was the finest, and I consider it one of the better additions to my bookshelf, wishing to force it upon anybody I know, only held back by what are considered inherent limitations by many, it being a comic book, and a tale of horror. You though, our wondrous reader, are hopefully of stronger stock, so enter, dearest, this path through the woods lined with crimson cobblestones and tall dark trees and see what stories you’ll get to find and experience before you in turn are found by the wolf and devoured whole.

New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014

Check from the e-catalogue ESTER

Lauri Heinsalu
Volunteer at Tallinn Central Library

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