I’ve talked about Emily Carroll’s comics before, but now that she has a book, I want to highlight her work again. And now that summer is coming to an end and Autumn is upon us, it seems like the perfect time to take a closer look at the delightfully macabre comics that Carroll has quickly become a master of. Her first book, Through the Woods, came out in July, and it is just simply stunning. The book contains five stories, “His Face All Red” being the only one I’ve read, so I was excited, but also somewhat nervous, to experience all new horrors at her hands.
Just while reading “An Introduction,” this is already one of the most beautiful books I own. Carroll uses negative space not just to create the world that her characters live in, but to set the entire mood of the book. She wants us as readers to feel that it’s not just the characters who are surrounded by an enveloping darkness; we are, too. This is a perfect start to the book and it lets us know just where we’ll be going.
The first actual story is called “Our Neighbor’s House” and it’s a really nicely paced folktale about three sisters. I’m still in awe at the command Carroll has of the genre. I don’t understand how these stories aren’t ancient ones that have been around since a time when people were afraid to go into the forest for what evils might lurk there. In this tale, three girls are left at home while their father goes out to get food, but what happens after he leaves is far more frightening than simply freezing to death in the snow. When I reached the end of the story I put down the book and out loud, shouted “jeez!” You know a horror story is effective if it causes you to shout out loud.
Next is “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” which really proves that Carroll’s mastery. The story seems at first like a retelling of Bluebeard, but with a ghostly aide to help the poor bride. That all changes when you see what’s really happening and who we should really be afraid of. Carroll’s art is absolutely perfect for this type of story. She’s not only a master of horror illustrations, she’s also brilliant at capturing the time periods where these stories take place. When the stories call for simple people living at the edge of a dark wood, she perfectly does that, but when it calls for elegant gowns and a beautiful manor, like this one does, she is able to step up and hit it out of the park.
The third story is “His Face All Red,” which I’ve read before but I was happy to read it again. This story is a classic, and it’s easy to see why it was included in the book. It’s also the only story that focuses on a male main character. You can check out this comic online if you want a preview of the book.
“My Friend Janna” brings us closer to the modern age with a tale of two friends and their fascination with the spirit world. I mean, come on, the first sentence is “My friend Janna used to speak to the dead”! What a way to set the stage. At first, we learn that it’s just a game that the two girls are playing, but things quickly turn dark (what else would you expect from Emily Carroll). Soon Janna starts to really act strange, and we learn that her friend can see a strange spirit attached to her. And oh gosh, that page of Janna’s diary we get see! It’s so creepy! I just really love this book so much, please, please check it out you guys. To reveal everything would be doing a disservice, so you just need to read it for yourselves.
By having “The Nesting Place” be the fifth story in the book, they really did save the best for last. It’s also the most well-built story in the book. It almost seems like you’re watching a classic horror film. Our heroine, Bell, is a student who is independent, snarky and someone who keeps her wits about her. She’s smart and clever, even in the face of terror, but in classic Carroll fashion, things won’t be so easy for her. I don’t really want to reveal too much about this one, because the surprises of it are just so great, but jeez, the first big reveal of The Thing is so incredible! This is my favorite tale in the book.
Carroll closes out her book with “In Conclusion,” a great twist on one of the most classic fairy tales: Red Riding Hood. But this one sends the message that all of Carroll’s tales do. No matter how clever you think you are, no matter how many precautions you take against the cold and the dark, they still have an advantage over you. Again, the art is just stunning.
I love this book to death. Carroll does a sort of “real world fantasy” where it all seems like this could be based on very real things and beliefs, or at least, things that used to be very real. These stories contain deep truths in them, bone chillingly frightening truths, but truths nonetheless. If you enjoy dark fables, beautiful art or jaw-dropping horror, this is a book you absolutely must buy. Carroll lives with her wife and cat in Ontario and you can check out more of her work on her website.
New Releases (September 3)
Betty and Veronica Friends Jumbo Comics Digest #240 (Archie Comics)
Lumberjanes #5 (Boom! Studios)
Steven Universe #2 (Boom! Studios)
Angel and Faith Season 10 #6 (Dark Horse)
Dejah of Mars #4 (Dynamite)
New Vampirella #4 (Dynamite)
Hack Slash: Son of Samhain #3 (Image)
Black Widow #10 (Marvel)
She-Hulk #8 (Marvel)
X-Men #19 (Marvel)
Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you. If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com.