Through the Woods
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Oh, my goodness. There are graphic novels. There are comic books. There are illustrated stories. And then there’s Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods.
Five stories, with an Introduction and a Conclusion – two mini-stories, if you would. They all have a feeling of being folksy old time stories, but scary ones, meant to keep children in their beds at night. Any urge to use them as bedtime stories should be firmly squelched, as virtually all of the stories hinge around menacing things that happen in the dark. While they are all creepy, a few of the tales are downright horrifying, especially “The Nesting Place”, that would have done Lovecraft proud. Every single one of them is marvelous. And those are just the stories.
It is the specter of the illustrations – also the creation of Ms. Carroll – that make the book special. The illustrations set the tone, set the stage, and cause the chill to dance down the reader’s spine. Through the Woods is a very dark book, literally, with many of the panels – somber on their own – set on a black background and diffused at the edges as if affected by mist, or smoke, or dreams.
The lettering is rustic and simple, and floats in the panel; more often than not it is part of the image rather than merely a commentary on it. The placement of the words in the panel, the lilt and the warp of it, is riveting. (Especially beautiful is the lettering in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”, where a haunting song is given a gruesomely premeditated treatment.)
The overall color palette of the book is very simple: blacks, browns, greys, and deep, dark, rich blues. Very few oranges, yellows, and virtually no greens, almost all that do exist are muted. And as a master touch, Ms. Carroll creates perhaps the most startling, gorgeous and effective use of red imaginable. Sometimes just a touch of red, a blush of a ruddy cheek, a child’s bloom; at other times, a splash of vibrant color that warns or shocks or screams.
Simply, without artifice or pretension, but with a tremendous amount of skill, Through the Woods is a work of art. And it’s a darned good read, too.