“What a fine night! What a good walk! I knew the wolf wouldn’t find me!”
“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again & again…” said a shadow at the window. “and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…”
“But the wolf…
…the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once.”
Today I’ll be looking at something completely different. I was browsing my local bookstore, on the lookout for something new and exciting. Something extraordinary.
My natural attraction is to middle-sized prose books, but when I came across this collection I knew I had found it.
By god, the cover is gorgeous. I knew I had to get it as soon as I touched it.
It’s a perfect combination of just 3 colours (yes, I know black and white are not technically colours), and the texture is …different. Kinda gritty, but still smooth? Hard to describe, and not what you’d expect. Perfect.
I know we all say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but when that refers to real books I think it’s something very wrong to say. The cover is designed specifically to reflect the contents of the book, especially so in this case, and a lot of hard work goes into it.
This is Through the Woods, a collection of horror shorts renowned comic writer Emily Carroll. She is mainly known for her web comics (“His Face all Red”, which features in this collection, being one of her most famous ones). In 2014 the first collection of her work got published, and in 2015 this gorgeous book made it to us in the UK.
Described by Alison Flood in the Observer as Grimm meets Stephen King, this is probably one of the most “out there” books in my collection. A mix of horror shorts and striking gothic visuals, the main thing that stays with me about these stories is the endings. Some moreso than others, all of these shorts have open endings. The supernatural, fantastical and spooky elements are mostly kept in the dark. The artwork is gorgeous, it’s got a cartoony part to it but feels so slick, and some of the imagery is very … disturbing.
There are 5 stories in this bundle. I won’t go through the stories in any detail, as it would be impossible to talk about them without spoiling anything and the atmosphere depends on the many twists and turns the stories contain. My personal favourites are “Our Neighbours House” and “The Nesting Place”. These stories, like all of them, are true page turners – quite literally so, as every tense moment is set on the right page and only gets its resolution or escalation on the left. The atmosphere is Grimm (hehe) and the creepy parts of these stories are vague and not explained, but not too vague to be gripping. The chills run down your back because it all starts out normal, it feels safe, but the monsters of our childhood dreams creep back into the page. The spooks don’t need to be explained because we already know and fear them, which makes these two tales so effective.
The most famous story in the bundle, “His Face all Red”, is actually my least favourite. The story, like the others, is instantly gripping. It’s format is more appropriate for a webcomic, as it’s not as natural feeling with the flipping of the pages: it’s more appropriate for scrolling down a webpage:
Also the story is ..alright. It feels shorter than it actually is, and it’s the least scary of the bunch. By no means do I mean to say that this is bad, though! It’s just the one I like the least of them all. But saying that about something in a collection that is so good, is like saying Milka is my least favourite German chocolate. It’s all good, just some are better than others.
The scariest tale I think would have to be the last one, “The Nesting Place”. It is the longest story, and it stays in the realm of the normal the longest too – lulling the reader into a false sense of security. Once everything turns macabre and the terror is revealed, the imagery is so scary that I found myself rereading it several times on the day of purchase, and actually had nightmares. It is hard to describe without giving anything away, so trust me – have a read.
This book is a good example to give to those who say that comics are either for children or geeks. It is so clever and beautiful, and the artist Emily Carroll has so much talent, that it will suade any sceptic.
It may not be for you though.
If you are a bit squeemish, tend to get nightmares or just don’t like scary tales, maybe don’t go for this one.
However, if you like to explore the world of modern fairytales, love comic shorts, or enjoy telling scary stories – or even just feel like seeing true art and craftsmanship – this is the book for you. It will creep you out, make you put the light on before you go into the room, and it will be over way too soon.
This collection is not made to be light, smooth, or easy to digest. It is meant to disturb, to break with conventions, and to linger. Because of this, it requires a heavier, smoky tea. The basis should definitely be made up of Lapsang Souchong, which is a little bit bitter and very smoky, as if you’re sitting at a campfire in a dense pine forest. However, as we’re getting closer to Christmas, and the story is more complex than “just” a Lapsang Souchong, I would actually go for a blend with that smoky base.
Luckily I recently had a wee haul at Yumchaa, and I can now combine this read with their limited edition festive tea: Old Fashioned. This blend is made up from Lapsang Souchong, Keemun, Orange Peel, Rosemary, Pink Peppercorns and …”Christmas Baubles”…? Besides the prettily decorated glass that’s alledgedly in there, this tea is very warming and comforting. And comfort is something I kind of needed with these stories…
The heavy, smoky scent and surface flavour hits you first with this tea, but when you get past that initial heaviness you reach the soothing fruity notes. And the …Christmas baubles? The flavour gets smoothed out, and becomes more well-rounded.
It’s like sitting by the campfire in a dense, dark pine forest – knowing that you’re safe from the big bad wolf.
Turn down the lights and light some candles, bundle yourself up, and have your Old Fashioned cuppa close to you when you’re reading this spooky, disturbing collection. Through the Woods will spook and challenge you, with Old Fashioned you will be safe…
…untill the lights go out…