I was terrified of the dark until my freshman year of college. The darkness stripped away the familiarity of my room and home, making me too scared to even lift the covers over my head. Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods offers a glimpse of what my mind’s eye would have seen if I had ever gathered the courage to peek past my covers.
Comprised of an illustrated introduction, five small stories, and an illustrated epilogue, Emily Carroll has paired horror with the art of graphic novels to provide an utterly unique method of story telling. Each story contains familiar elements you would find in the familiar stories one might have grown up with in either fairy tales or children’s novels- for example, a girl in red traveling the woods or a wolf terrorizing a village. However, these familiar elements have been taken by Carroll to create distinct horror and psychological thrilling stories that are her own.
The most pleasant part of Carroll’s illustrations is that, while gore and body horror (such as teeth coming out of a mouth) are used, the sole purpose of these elements are not used simply for shock value. Illustration and story are used to create suspense and leave clues for the reader to use in order to try and figure out the story before it reaches its conclusion. It allows the reader to be given a distinct sense of suspense in her work in what she writes or feel the growing paranoia towards an unsettling character as you read. The kind of blood-chilling horror she is able to create makes you think twice about the ordinary and makes you apprehensive whenever you look over your shoulder after reading.
Carroll has married her ability in both story telling and the expert use of her comics in order to utilize both arts to their full potential. What is most distinct about her work is that, as a reader, you immediately notice the minimalistic approach she has taken towards her comics. It isn’t uncommon to have three panels per page, or a single page containing a single panel. This is a very distinct difference when comparing comic books of the 1970’s in the United States, who often filled a single page with dozens of panels and large chunks of text. However, she is not afraid to use more panels when necessary for her work. Her illustrations range from simplified drawings to complex, detailed pieces, which make the reader pause with the change of drawing style to ponder why she chose that element to illustrate in detail.
Her use of color is also important to note. She relies heavily on black ink, creating negative space with that color and creating claustrophic effects with her use of the color. Sometimes, one color may be used in the comic, adding color to a black and white palette. It is important to note, however, that she does not shy away from color entirely. She also illustrates comics in full color for a fantastic effect.
Through the Woods allows readers to dive into darker fantasy, taking the ordinary and transforming it into something unsettling. They play at the unconscious and the imagination. It reminds me of, as a child, stopping to look at the woods during the winter. I remember how quiet and how peaceful it was with the snow and wondering what could be hiding behind the thick trees. After all, as Emily Carroll says, “[i]t came through the woods. Most strange things do.”