Emily Carroll, 208 pgs, Margaret K. McElderry Books, $26.50 hard cover, $16.99 paperback
It would be difficult to over-praise this first book of graphic short fiction from Emily Carroll. Through the Woods is a collection of five stories, including a revised-for-print version of the previously released webcomic “His Face All Red.”
The salience of red and black on Carroll’s pages is our first sign that these stories have something to do with horror — both the feeling and the genre. But inside her macabre narratives we also discover retellings of traditional fairy tales, coming-of-age stories, nuanced relationships, and a good dose of nostalgia. The sparse dialogue and frequent narration is unusual for comics, and gives the book an unnervingly quiet quality.
Despite the unifying themes of the collection, the stories display a wide range of visual styles and settings. In “The Nesting Place,” for example, the cheerful mint and azure dresses worn by one character (a suspicious fiancée) interrupt the drab palette of a 1920s farmhouse. Carroll’s version of Bluebeard offers the perhaps most daring art of the book. Titled “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” she sets the tale in the 18th century — complete with stately home and elaborate dresses — but depicted solely through primary colours. Within this bold scheme, the cartooning is inventive and masterful, at times a little more abstract, and augmented by word balloons the colour of blood.
Emily Carroll has created a remarkable book that demands to be read again and again. Thrilling, complicated, delightful, Through the Woods is a triumph. (Andrew Woodrow-Butcher)