“Unsettling” is a common word used to describe Emily Carroll’s graphic fiction these days, though perhaps it is given unjustly. “Unsettling” seems to skim the right word, but it ultimately lacks the punch her work delivers. Is there a definition for the sound of nails scraping a chalkboard? Or a word for the feeling of curling your toes anxiously, repeatedly bracing yourself in squeamish anticipation?
Is it uneasy? Queasy?
In Through the Woods, Emily Carroll takes her readers on a splendid adventure of fantastical, yet highly disquieting, horror. Through the Woods builds on a great deal of Carroll’s previously established literary voice and visual footprint. This collection of five short graphic stories is her debut work in print, published in 2014, alongside her long-standing website of comics. Her writing, often characterized by a mix of lyrical verse and truncated, quick-impact sentences, is nothing shy of a master-class in how plain language can express, and incite, the most fear.
The potency of Carroll’s horrific effect comes in large part from the way in which she delivers it. The “creepy factor”, so to speak, in stories like His Face All Red, The Nesting Place, and A Lady’s Hands are Cold, derives from their simplistic, often rhythmic, childish language. What may begin as deceptively lighthearted and unsophisticated often turns out to be disturbingly grim. And you discover a couple pages in that this is exactly the intent.
Much like the Grimms, it appears that Carroll understands the age-old wisdom that anything horrific told innocuously enough becomes doubly horrific.
The more Carroll’s prose and illustrations resemble a crude, childlike form, the more unsettling they become. Strangely, it is the frankness of her drawings that delivers the most nuance, because there is nowhere to hide in it. Much of her work is presented as upfront; visually speaking, Carroll suppresses a reader’s ability to hide within the vague by denying it in the first place. The lines are sharp, the colour is bold, the contrast is high, and the font is creepy.
And, while we’re on the topic—should you ever want a lesson on how colour can impact an atmosphere, this book is it.
Seriously. It is.
Now before I close, I’d like to give a personal note from myself to any readers newly delving into Carroll’s creepy world: please, watch out for the teeth. I have yet to name it, but there is something highly unnerving about the way Carroll draws teeth, and I would bet good money that she knows it.
Read The Nesting Place, and you’ll see.
– Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi