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Thursday, August 14, 2014

'Through the Woods' stories by Emily Carroll

From the BLURB:

A fantastically dark and timeless graphic debut, for fans of Grimm Tales, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and the works of Neil Gaiman

'It came from the woods. Most strange things do.'

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there...

Emily Carroll is a storyteller, in the most primordial sense of the word. All of her illustrated gothic/horror stories feel like a conjuring of campfire tales told with a dash of folklore, urban legend and heady doses of fright. What makes this a particular accomplishment is that many people (like me) would have first discovered Carroll via her webcomics, scrolling through the panels of her stories, which are made no less terrifying for their original screen medium.

But now, for the first time, Carroll has gathered those webcomics in a book – ‘Through the Woods’ is her debut graphic novel collection of old and new stories.

I’ve been a fan of Emily Carroll’s webcomics since first stumbling across her website many years ago. I remember finding and falling in love with her work, even before I really got into the comic scene with the likes of ‘Saga’ and ‘Ms Marvel’. I don’t think I even really understood that Carroll was a comic artist back then – when I thought comics were all Batman, Superman and not much in-between. I think I just thought of her as a writer-illustrator who scared the beegeesus out of me with the story ‘His Face All Red’ (which is still my favourite).

There are five stories in this collection, plus an introduction and conclusion.

‘Our Neighbour’s House’ tells the tale of three sisters left to fend for themselves when their father does not return from his hunt, and what happens when a man in a wide-brimmed hat starts visiting them in the dead of night. 

‘A Lady’s Hands are Cold’ has a ‘Bluebeard’ feel, when a young woman goes hunting through her new husband’s house for the source of a mysterious song.

‘His Face All Red’ is my personal favourite, from Carroll’s original webcomics series. It tells the tale of a man who has it on good authority that the person claiming to be his brother is an impersonator.

‘My Friend Janna’ is about two friends who get into the medium business; contacting spirits of people’s deceased loved ones.

‘The Nesting Place’ introduces us to Bell, who is staying with her brother and his strange fiancée while she’s on school break … but discovers something terrifying in the woods near the house.

Carroll is a great gothic storyteller, but more than that she’s a wonderful short-story writer. She knows how to pack a lot into just a few sentences, and has mastered the art of building to a climax – really hitting home with great one-liners in particular. All of her stories feel like they fit on either the folktale or urban legend spectrum – either seeming like something harking back to medieval times (like ‘A Lady’s Hands are Cold’ reminding of the French folktale ‘Bluebeard’) or they feel urban legend in that “a friend, of a friend of mine” sense (like ‘The Nesting Place’).

The other thing I love about Carroll is that her illustrations often look like old-school children’s book illustrations, and that seems to make them feel all the more sinister. Some of them have quite a Miroslav Sasek or J.P. Miller look – but often the bright colours and round-faced characters are at odds with the creepy text. 

Not surprisingly, Carroll has cited children’s books as a big inspiration for her – from Charles Keeping to Andrew Lang (“Essentially any book that gave me nightmares when I was a kid is a driving force behind what I make now.”)

Carroll has been published in anthologies and her webcomics have made her quite famous (in fact, Carroll is illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s ‘Speak’, due out in 2016) but ‘Through the Woods’ is her graphic novel debut … but it definitely won’t be her last.



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