Through the Woods is a comic book collection of short horror stories written and illustrated by Emily Carroll. Each of the five tales touches upon death, transformation, and brushes with the forces of the abyss that are the unknown in our world. Three girls receive strange visitations after their father fails to return from a hunt, a young man is troubled by the return of his brother, whom he killed, a young woman learns the value of telling stories about monsters, and more. Each bears with it the motif of the woods, an enchanting yet dangerous place where such strange things can come from.
As a lover of horror, especially horror comic books as of late, I’m surprised it took me so long to hear about this book. When I finally did, I took a shot in the dark with it, not really looking into what the stories were about, or even what the art was like beyond the cover. The collection skews more young adult, but the stories are told in such a way that I feel anybody young adult and older could enjoy them.
When I started the first book, I have to admit that I initially felt a little let down. The first story, “Our Neighbor’s House”, did little to wow me as a narrative; this is the story about the three girls being visited by a strange individual during the dead of winter. The story wasn’t badly told, nor were the ideas poorly executed, it just felt rather rote. The visitor himself is described in familiar terms with a wide-brimmed hat and big smile, yet given ethereal qualities that suggest he is something more, evoking common tropes about modern boogie-men. Though scant on details about what is actually happening, leaving things fairly open-ended, it seemed to me rather easy to figure out, and I’d wished there had been more to it. I have come to appreciate the poignancy of the ending the more I’ve thought about it, though, so there is that.
My misgivings early on did not withstand, however, as I found the stories got better and better as the collection went on, though my favourite sits right in the middle of it all. This favourite of mine was “His Face All Red”, about the young man who murdered his brother, only for his brother to return to their village from the woods alive and well days later. While it was another familiar sort of story about jealousy, murder, and guilt, I was enamoured with the way the story was paced and unfolded. There was just the right amount of strangeness present, virtually unexplained in an ideal way. The tension mounts slowly and palpably in the small details the young man notices that defy what he knows really happened. Things are made all the more tense by the fact that this presumed double of his brother acts as if nothing happened. Yet the nagging strangeness of it all ensures the young man finds no peace, building to an ending that leaves it on a most chillingly perfect note.
One thing that was exceptional throughout the entire book was the art. “Our Neighbor’s House” wonderfully captures the encroaching cold of winter in the countryside, shadows slowly filling the corners of the house, the stark whites and greys shining through and making everything look bleak and cold as death. The art style appreciably varies between stories too, each feeling they have their own distinct tone and atmosphere. This is most dramatically seen with the second story “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”, which starkly contrasts reds and blues to denote temperature and intensity. Each story was a delight to behold visually, their respective horrors rendered with haunting beauty.
Through the Woods was a great collection of horror stories that skews a little younger, but could nevertheless be enjoyed by anyone of appropriate age. It’s always heartening to see great works of horror that don’t seem exclusively for adults, as I love the idea of an appreciation of the genre being nurtured earlier on. I could go on about a lot of the stories in this collection, but considering their brevity, to do so would just spoil them. It’s best to go read them for yourself knowing as little as possible. It’s not without its flaws, but it is nevertheless an excellent collection that I heartily recommend.
My Rating: 4 out of 5