I’ll start out with the main point of this review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll should be on your Hugo ballot for Best Graphic Story. Haven’t heard of it yet? Still plenty of time to find a copy and read it! I hope this review will convince you to do so.
Through the Woods is an intense and dark collection of graphic short stories by Emily Carroll. These are mostly subtle horror stories or maybe very dark fairy tales, playing on themes of family and trust in the best Gothic tradition. The narration is understated, a “less is more” approach that very effectively creates a real sense of dread about what’s coming. Carroll is simply masterful at gently leading you into the story and then abandoning you when you find out exactly what went bump in the night at the very beginning. It’s terrifying and incredibly effective.
The beauty of the story-telling is matched by the deceptive simplicity of the artwork. The color choices Carroll makes here are brilliant. Just look at that cover: stark blacks and whites with lots of shocking red, like a lithograph that someone bled on. As the stories gain in complexity, more colors are gradually introduced, as if they’re luring the reader in with a sense of familiarity.
There’s a cinematic quality to the frames: quick close-ups on small details or on a character’s shockingly empty facial expression; perspectives switching to highlight a slow, creeping realization setting in; the camera pulling back as if to impress a sense of scale on the reader. Going back to the cover (here’s a larger version for you to admire), see how how small that tiny blue figure is compared to the dark woods she’s about to wander into? Through the Woods is filled with perfectly executed little pieces of art like that.
In the end, this is one of those books you have to read and read again. No review can really do it justice. Fortunately, you can find a solid sample on the author’s page.
I don’t read many graphic novels, and don’t consider myself an expert in the least, but I know what I like, and this, dear reader, I like a lot. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is intensely beautiful and nothing short of unforgettable. Highly recommended.