Advertisement
The Horror Of Not Knowing In Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods
Indie Comics Reading Recommendations

The Horror Of Not Knowing In Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods

By 0 Comments

This page contains affiliate links for eCommerce websites. How to Love Comics may recieve a small commission on purchases you make. Find out more in our affiliate disclaimer.

This page contains affiliate links for eCommerce websites. How to Love Comics may recieve a small commission on purchases you make. Find out more in our affiliate disclaimer.

Emily Carroll knows what people are scared of: ghosts, wolves, the woods, and the dark. But they know that we’re perhaps most scared of unanswered questions. In Through the Woods, Carroll scares us even more with what they omit from their stories than with what they put into them. Most of their stories don’t have a satisfying ending – they leave us on a cliffhanger. Many pose terrifying questions that never get answers. And others can be interpreted multiple ways, leaving us wondering if they’re writing about things that are safely removed from us in the world of the supernatural, or if these are metaphors of very real threats.

Through the Woods cover by Emily Carroll.
Through the Woods cover by Emily Carroll.

The Prologue

Through the Woods opens with a simple prologue, which lasts only three pages, but presents an all-too-familiar fear. Carroll talks about how they used to read in the dark with the help of a lamp clamped to the headboard of their bed when they were little. Whenever they finished reading for the night, they would dread turning off the light, for fear that there was something out beyond the light that they couldn’t see. “What if I reached out… just past the edge of the bed and something, waiting there, grabbed me and pulled me down into the dark”, they write. And while this is a scene many of us are acquainted with, it’s not the words Carroll writes that make these three pages sing. In fact, it’s not even what they draw. It’s what they don’t draw that brings on the terror.

The third page shows young Emily Carroll, propped up on one hand, peering off the side of their bed. The twisting cord of the lamp trails off into the darkness. The pitch black obscures any sign of the off-switch, and there’s no hint of anything else that could be hiding in the shadows. Another cartoonist would probably populate the dead space on this page with the myriads of monsters young Emily has running through their mind. Carroll knows that it’s the dead space itself that leaves us feeling our hearts in our throats. With that – this warning that anything could be out there in the dark, and we’ll never even get to find out if it’s there or not – Carroll begins their anthology.

Through the Woods page by Emily Carroll.
Through the Woods page by Emily Carroll.

“Our Neighbor’s House”

The first story, “Our Neighbor’s House”, follows three young girls who live out in the woods with their father. When their father has to go out hunting for food, he tells his girls that if he’s gone for more than three days, they must go to their neighbor’s house. The rest of the story is full of imagery, motifs, and apparent contradictions that spell out imminent doom. But when the doom finally arrives, Carroll refuses to show us what it looks like. In fact, the whole story is characterized by the evasiveness of their artwork.

The girls, as they descend into what might be madness – or perhaps something else entirely – are often shown from behind. They face away from us. We rarely see their faces, and when we do, it’s often in part. We see their chin, their eyes, their mouth. It’s almost as though we’re reading about characters who are ashamed or afraid of us. They hide themselves as we read, dreading that our hands might turn the page, and guide them to their unfortunate ends.

Through the Woods page by Emily Carroll.
Through the Woods page by Emily Carroll.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold”

The next story, “A Lady’s Hands are Cold”, seems to be in conversation with our first piece. In the same way that Carroll used foreboding imagery to spell out a tragic end, they draw connections between panels that get us to anticipate where the story is going. And yet, things don’t play out as you would expect them to. 

A Lady’s Hands are Cold” is about a woman who marries a rich, young man. Carroll focuses us in on the red ribbon around the main character’s neck, then shows us an image of her husband’s knife tracing a red trail through his bloody steak. At first, it seems clear where this story is headed. The husband is going to become bloodthirsty and murderous at some point, and our main character is going to have her throat slit. Yet, as the story progresses, it seems like there’s an entirely different narrative that’s unfolding beneath the surface. Carroll makes clear visual hints to what’s going on, before abruptly ending these pages, and moving on to their next tale. Our theories of what is really happening are left hanging, out in the darkness past the edge of the page.

Through the Woods panels by Emily Carroll.
Through the Woods panels by Emily Carroll.

“His Face All Red”

His Face All Red”, a webcomic on Carroll’s site, went viral a while before it was included in this anthology. It did so for good reason. This is one of the most straightforward stories in the collection, and yet it’s also utterly dumbfounding. We learn about two brothers who go into the woods to deal with something that’s been killing the local livestock, and the drama that ensues.

Carroll implements their most brilliant device in this chapter. When violent things happen, we don’t see what’s going on. Instead we’re shown a repeated image of the previous panel – which concentrates on the background – but now in bright red hues. We get the sense that something bloody has happened off-panel. Later, the story begins to question if everything happened off-panel in the way that we thought it did. Carroll leaves us defenseless. We have no proof of what happened because they averted our gaze from the action. 

As “His Face All Red” closes, Carroll hits us with one last devastating blow. They begin to color every panel with a brighter and brighter shade of red. We know what this means, blood is going to be spilled any second now. But just before we get our satisfying ending, they cut to black.

Through the Woods panels by Emily Carroll.
Through the Woods panels by Emily Carroll.

“My Friend Janna” and “The Nesting Place”

The last two stories work beautifully in tandem with each other. The first, “My Friend Janna”, seems to clearly be using supernatural elements as metaphors for a real problem. There are some obvious connections to life that we can see at play, all of which feels to be a big part of the point of the story. “The Nesting Place”, however, is the opposite. It’s the mirror image of “My Friend Janna”. 

In “The Nesting Place”, the plot leans heavily into the paranormal. But when the main character tries to point that out, she’s told that this is all just her brain trying to cope with her traumatic past. Carroll brilliantly subverts themself by making a story that’s about what it feels like when no one will believe you. Their other stories feel like they could all be explained away as some strange phenomenon. In “His Face All Red,” the narrator even outright wonders if he’s hallucinating, saying “Is this guilt?” Carroll assures us, terrifyingly, that sometimes their stories are just magical and impossible to explain away.

Emily Carroll is a modern master of horror. They’re so adept at crafting stories, that they know exactly which pieces to remove from the equation to really get under our skin. Carroll doesn’t write comics like we’d hope they would. They write comics like we hope no one ever would, for fear it would be too much for us to handle.

Through the Woods can be found in all good comic book shops, book stores, online retailers, eBay, and Amazon.

Advertisement

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don’t miss out on our newsletter

Get reading recommendations, lists, reading orders, tips and more in your inbox.

Sign-up to the newsletter

Don’t miss out on our email newsletter full of comics recommendations, lists, reading orders, tips and more.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter too.