I think the best way to open up this review is with Patrick Rothfuss’s blurb:
This freaked my shit out
It is the most accurate description of this book. I’ve been following Emily Carroll’s webcomics off and on for the last few years. I don’t know how I originally found her, hell it might have been my high school days where I spent way too much time on stumble upon (a habit I’ve finally kicked). I know the first comic I ever read was His Face All Red. To this day it’s probably still my favourite.
Earlier this year, while wandering the Toronto International Book Festival I saw a stack of colourful books in one of the vendors booths. When I realized it was Carroll’s first print collection I bought it immediately. I then put off reading it for a long time, I knew that I was never going to be able to sleep once I finished it. I wasn’t disappointed.
Through the Woods contains five short horror comics. One of them from her archive online and four more that are completely new. All of them featuring beautiful artwork. Seriously, every page in this book is magnificent. The art has a dreamlike quality that matches the stories perfectly. Reading this book is like wandering through someone’s nightmares. Carroll leaves just the right amount of her tales ambiguous, forcing you to fill in the blanks. She know just how to set you up so your mind fills in all the creepy details.
I made the mistake of reading this right before going to bed. I didn’t get to sleep very easily that night.
Through the Woods deals with the fear of the unknown. Either the characters are trying to escape the darkness itself or what has followed them back from the abyss. Because of this, all the stories hit you on a primal level. These are dark fairy tales some of them minus a proper lesson at the end.
I loved it.
To go into more detail I’ll give a spoiler free break down of the five stories in the book.
Our Neighbour’s House
The first story in the book is the most ambiguous. A Father leaves three sisters alone at their home. If he doesn’t return the sisters are supposed to leave their isolated home and venture out to their neighbours. When the Father doesn’t return the Eldest daughter decides that the girls will stay at the house. The girls begin disappearing one by one after claiming to be visited by a man wearing a large hat.
Is the man in the hat a villain? Is he their rescuer? It’s up to you to decide. I’ve read through this story the most before writing this review, but couldn’t figure it out.
A Lady’s Hands Are Cold
This story is Emily Carroll’s spin on the fairy tale Bluebeard. A young woman marries a man and moves into his giant home. During the nights she hears the voice of another young woman singing a mournful song:
“I married my love in the springtime,
But by summer, he’d locked me away.
He murdered me dead by the autumn,
And by winter, I was naught but decay.
It’s cold where I am and so lonely,
But in loneliness I will remain,
Unloved, unavenged and forgotten,
Until I am whole once again.”
She decides to investigate and eventually doesn’t like what she finds.
If you didn’t think Bluebeard was creepy before (seriously?) this story somehow manages to up the creep factor to eleven. It left me with a lot of half answered questions. This story would make a great animated short film. A Lady’s Hands Are Cold is my second favourite story in this collection.
My Friend Janna
This story is probably the most lucid story in this book. Two friends pretend to run seances so people can speak with their loved ones. As Jana pretends to talk to the spirits, our narrator hides in the walls and makes noise. Everything is going wonderfully until the narrator begins to see something haunting Jana. Only she can see it.
This story reminded me of something someone would tell at a campfire or like something that you would find in one of those Scary Stories fro Kids books. Those things still give me nightmares.
The Nesting Place
If you don’t like bugs, don’t read this story.
When a young girl goes to spend some time with her brother and his new wife she finds out there is more to the new wife than to be expected. Reading this story made me think of del Toro’s The Strain, if that gives you any ideas of what to expect.
This to me was my least favourite in the collection, just because I was able to figure out what the final twist was going to be pretty early on in the story. That being said, the art is still super creepy and gorgeous.
I haven’t included a picture for this one, because I don’t want to spoil the ending (and that’s the only picture available online).
His Face All Red
As mentioned before this was the first comic that I ever ready by Emily Carroll and is still by far my favourite. Even though I know what’s coming, I still get shivers.
A monster is terrorizing a small farming village. Two brothers go to kill the monster. The younger brother has always been jealous of his heroic older brother and when given the chance kills him and blames it upon the beast that they killed. The younger brother is hailed a hero, everything is looking up and then his brother comes back… Or does he?
This story is gloriously creepy, well paced and beautifully drawn.
Overall, if you like fairy tales or even just short horror stories, then I suggest you check this book out. You should also visit Emily Carroll’s website to check out the rest of her comics and her art. Just a word to the wise, don’t read this before bed. You’ll regret it.