Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods was oddly reminiscent of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Scary Stories, along with Grimms’ Fairy Tales, were my go-to horror reads as a kid, so this collection really struck a chord with me.
Maybe it is the narrative voice of folk tales, or particularly Carroll’s, but these stories were told beautifully. Modern, over-the-top horror works do not convey the creepy, nightmarish qualities of horror nearly as well to works similar to those of Carroll, Schwartz, and/or of course, the Grimm brothers.
Rather than focus on the villain or monster of any particular story, Carroll focuses on protagonist of the stories, which creates a much more psychological horror effect. The reader is only aware of the protagonist’s perspective, which creates a mysterious atmosphere. To accentuate these effects, Carroll primarily utilizes a bleak, matte color pallette with contrasting bright, primary colors to catalyze further conflict. Rather than cinematic or aural jump-scares, which are not very effective through physical mediums, Carroll’s coloration fills a similar role in exciting the audience.
And that isn’t even considering the creepy illustrations. It’s one thing to describe a spooky spectre, reanimated corpse, or any other horror creature, but illustration is another thing entirely. Carroll’s illustrations reminded me of The Grudge‘s stutter movements–indescribable creepiness, yet incredibly artistic.
Carroll’s more realistic characters have an odd charm, though. Generally, somber expressions are used throughout, which help to contrast the more graphic expressions and artwork, since the gutters then require more significant inter-panel closure, similar to the jump scare.
But, the typography was the creepiest element of Through the Woods. To the right is a panel from the Introduction. Notice how “grabbed me” is both ‘sliding’ downward, and written in all caps to punctuate the action. “And pulled me/down into” is then written in a sheepishly small cursive, with a poetic line break to emphasize “down”. “The” is then written in a completely different cursive style, which could indicate another writer. And the final “dark” is written in an etched-like style, conveying a powerful, determined author. All the while, the character is gazing downward, from the illumination and into the shadows, toward the nearly universal childhood nightmare fuel known as “under the bed”.
Carroll’s Through the Woods maximizes the effect of her horror tales by utilizing such a variety of techniques: from storytelling to illustration and coloration to typography.