Emily Carroll is an award winning comic writer and illustrator best known for her various horror-themed short stories. Her debut full-length print work, Through the Woods, is a collection of five of these short stories totaling 208 pages, all set in a Victorian fairy tale-esque world. While publisher Simon and Schuster categorized Through the Woods as a teen book, i found it to be delightfully terrifying and filled with haunting imagery that will disturb even experienced horror fans.
Through the Woods reminded me of a collection of ghost tales told around a campfire or in a dark room. While all five of the stories featured in Through the Woods are relatively straightforward, they all deal with complex themes like guilt, jealousy and betrayal. While the book is recommended for those 14 and older, children a few years younger who have been exposed to horror movies will probably also enjoy this book. This is the sort of creepy and visual thing a younger me, fascinated by monsters in the wood and urban legends, would have devoured.
As one flips through the pages of Through the Woods, it becomes quickly apparent that Carroll is a master at using negative space to accentuate the suspense and terror in her work. Perhaps drawing from her background as a web cartoonist, Carroll's artwork features a number of non-traditional layouts and stark visuals that will send shivers down your spine. Perhaps even more impressive is how Carroll rarely shows the monsters that lurk in her world. A shadow here, a sinister outline there, Carroll teases the readers and invites them to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps. In a way, Carroll's storytelling utilizes negative space as effectively as her artwork. I was also impressed at the different styles of artwork, coloring and lettering used in Through the Woods. While many of the stories have common themes and settings, Carroll uses a variety of distinctive coloring and art styles to separate the stories and prevent any of them from blending together.
My favorite of the five stories in Through the Woods is "The Nesting Place", a disturbing story that features a young girl named Bell and a surreal and chilling antagonist, Bell's soon to be sister in law, Rebecca. While Rebecca appears to be an overly earnest and doting fiancee, Bell quickly discovers that she's not at all what she appears to be. "The Nesting Place" is unique in that Carroll actually shows Rebecca's squirming and disgusting true form, which is fitting since the story is Through the Woods' final story. Even hours after reading "The Nesting Place", I still shudder when thinking about Rebecca and her effect on poor, mistrusting Bell.
My only possible complaint about Through the Woods is how quickly I tore through the book, leaving me begging for more. Luckily, the book has a high rereadability factor due to its simple and haunting imagery, and Carroll has additional comics available at her website. Through the Woods is a strong print debut for Carroll, and I'm sure she'll gain a legion of new fans from picking this comic up, as well as more award nominations. If you're looking for a good story that will disturb both you and your young teenage kids, I highly recommend picking up Through the Woods from your local bookstore or library.