Thursday, March 12, 2015

YALSA top ten GNs 2015: Through the Woods

Through the Woods
Written and illustrated by Emily Carroll.
Printed by Margaret K. McElderry Books (2014).

If you asked me I'd say that I don't like horror. I don't read horror books. I don't watch horror movies. I think being scared is...scary and not fun. And yet, if I gave you that response I'd be lying to both of us.

Sure, I don't like horror movies, unless you set it on a space station and put an alien in it. I don't read horror books, except for all of that HP Lovecraft stuff I've read to play Call of Cthulhu. I'll play horror video games (I stopped playing Dead Space because my partner said the sounds freaked them out). I'll apparently spend hours reading about unsolved mysteries on the internet and terrifying myself until I'm scared to move or look behind me. And then, of course, there are the horror comics.

I'll _still_ say that I don't like horror, but if you ask for my list of favourite comics ever you'll find Uzumaki by Junji Ito on that list (review coming to this site some day!). I've read and enjoyed numerous other horror manga (by Ito and other creators), I own reprints of old horror comics, and I know there's at least one other horror comic on my shelf (and possibly more than that).

By reading the above you can probably guess that Through the Woods is a horror comic. Just by knowing that you know more than I did when I started reading this comic, because I figured it was going to be fairy tales or something. It's, uh, not. Or rather, I suppose it is scary and terrifying like some fairy tale stories can be.

Carroll is best known, perhaps, for Face All Red, a short horror comic that she put online several years ago. I remember reading it then, and thought that while pretty creepy, it wasn't as big a deal as other people seemed to think. That story is included in this volume, and I feel pretty much the same way about it now as I did then.

However, I feel differently about the other stories in this volume. Some of them are incredibly creepy, spooky, or scary, and one even had me scream out loud a little on a page turn reveal that was kind of body horror. (And fuck, that stuff really freaks me out sometimes. Or pretty much all times.)

The stories are set in various periods of "ye olden days", with the most recent being set at some point after cars become fairly common place (it really doesn't matter when). (And something I didn't realize until I was flicking through the book again just now, is that the vast majority of these stories all have female characters in the lead role.)

Carroll's art is pretty great. Though I'm apparently incapable of saying much beyond that. Her use of page design (very few panels have straight, defined borders),  and colour is really great, and show how much effort went into creating the mood in these comics.

Overall the production of the book is really quite nice, with the thick glossy paper used allowing the colours to pop off the page. Similarly, much of the art is full bleed, which means it's printed right up to the end of the page (and I was reading a comic from the '90s recently where this was presented as a big deal). Because of these factors, plus the styles used for the art and lettering (the whole comic is hand lettered and the words can really feel like part of the artwork), Through the Woods sometimes reminded me more of children's picture books than of any other comics.

I'm not going to explain the plot of any of the stories in here, as I feel they're almost of second importance to that of creating creepy atmosphere. But even if not, it seems almost unfair to tell you what's happening in these stories, as it could ruin the surprise for you if you choose to read this comic.

This is a beautiful comic, and parts of it are going to haunt my memory (in a terrified way) for a while. Still, I'm glad it's on this list because I hadn't heard of it before, and despite the fear, the scary imagery that will not leave my brain, and the possibility of trouble sleeping in the future, I'm happy to have read it.

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