Review by Megan Sinclair
Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods is the print title for five of her previous webcomics. As the name suggests, the comic centres around the woods, both physically and metaphorically and the danger that lurks within them. It is an aesthetically beautiful graphic novel. The front cover uses a interesting Japanese/Gothic inspired hybrid, and the branches entwining it are rendered to feel three-dimensional as if luring the readers themselves into the maze of stories within.
The internal artwork does not disappoint as Carroll subverts and manipulates the comic page at every turn, guiding us through a nightmarish wonderland. Whether it be a cramped and constricted panelled page, trapping the readers in its Gothic realms or a two page spread of a fantastical and surreal world of magic and madness, Carroll constantly changes her style to suit. It is a truly incredible work of art and the pages would sit just as well framed in a gallery than side by side in the comic.
However, that is not to say that Through the Woods is just a work of art, as Carroll’s illustrative skills are matched by her writing. Each story is a dark and thrilling journey taking us deeper into the woods. There are moments of pure terror mixed with clever little nods to the way the medium can work. For example, as simple as it may seem there is the wonderful panel where Mabel and Rebecca are introduced and discuss how Mabel’s nickname is written. Rebecca at first asks “As in Belle et la Bete?” to which Mabel responds, “No – as in it tolls for thee”. The conversation also subtly foreshadows Mabel’s mistrust of her brother’s partner.
Although they are short stories, Carroll provides enough characterisation for the readers to relate to and sympathise with each person, making the dark and often unexpected twisted endings all the more horrific. Each story leaves us wanting more, questioning the fate of the unfortunates within.
Each story feels both wonderfully unique and at the same time, interconnected. Carroll makes the readers work through the thorny maze that traps each character and break through their branches to solve the narrative’s many mysteries.
Through the Woods is a relatively short read, but an extremely engaging one and as the wolf concludes, “you must travel through those woods again and again”, and should you make it out okay in your first read heed the final lines that “the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once”.