It’s October, and that means it’s Halloween season. In fact, Halloween is just one week away and I haven’t written anything about it yet this year. Is something wrong? Have I been murdered by a masked killer and the drafts folder is just populating the publication list? No, none of that! I just haven’t been around all that much, and the time I have had has been spent taking in horror, as the season dictates.
So I am here for a Halloween recommendation. But it’s more than just that. It’s perhaps a perfect seasonal recommendation:
- it’s not just horror, it’s also autumnal
- it’s horror, but not gross-out
- the art is lovely
- the writing is sharp
- the characters are great
- it’s a comic series so it will last you a while and
- the series was completed earlier this year so there’s no waiting for the next issue and no worrying about it not being finished
I present to you: Harrow County.
Harrow County started as a serialized prose story on the internet called Countless Haints, which you can read here. Eventually that series was stopped and restarted as this comic. The story follows Emmy Crawford, who lives on a farm with her father in Harrow County. The town has a dark history, tied to Hester Beck, a witch. As the story progresses, prophecies are laid out, witches and haints emerge, and it turns out that magic and power in Harrow County is a lot more layered than anyone thought.
There are two things that balance out the grotesque with the charming. The first is the art, almost exclusively by Tyler Crook through the books 32 issue run. His style in this book is a lush water-color. Daylight is often golden, nearly sepia, and nights are a rich grey with many layers to shadows. He tends to keep scenes close to a core pallet, which means when there’s blood it looks out-of-place by color, and not by content. The gore almost rises out from behind the pages, bleeding through as if the paper page itself had been laid down on something wet and red and rich. It’s effective and lovely.
The other thing that keeps the story light in the beginning, and deep later on, is Bernice Anderson. She’s Emmy’s best friend. She gets along great with Emmy and her father, but she does live in a different village as Harrow County takes place in the southern US during the 1930s. Bernice is a great character, whose magical roots come from a different place than Emmy’s.
It’s fitting that the comic started out as prose on the internet as there are bits and pieces of construction that relate both to old family folktales as well as contemporary creepypasta. There’s the fact that some of the mythology in the book is credited to family stories, such as the definition of “haint”. Each issue also ends with a one-page tale at the end that tell a brief just-so type story or fable. Most of these are by the artist Tyler Crook, but other writers come in and contribute. Crook’s tales are usually about small moments in the history of Harrow County, but these other writers tend to bring in tales that may or may not be family fables. They’re told with a first person voice and a personal connection to the story, with no real way to check the historicity of it. I love the fact that this is both how traditional oral stories were passed on, as well as how internet creepypasta lore started to propagate.
The story starts simple and is based very much around Emmy and Bernice, as well as some local folk who wander into the narrative. As the story rolls on and the mythology becomes more complex, it’s always grounded on the character work that the book starts with. Even the monsters, haints, and creatures that populate the book are rolled in slowly. It’s almost like the myth of slowly heating water to boil a frog; if you picked up anything in the last couple of volumes the art would be bloody and horrific and filled with grotesque and gory creatures. But they are introduced with enough grounding in story, and at a slow enough pace, that they never overtake Emmy’s journey and turn it into a monster book.
If you’re interested at all, the first issue is free on an old post over at io9.