It’s compelling, cohesive horror storytelling with a purpose. What’s not to love?
Harrow County is a dark, beautiful, poetic comic. It’s about monsters and blood and gore, yes, but it’s also about family, finding our place in the world, and about responsibility. I personally think it sits among Cullen Bunn’s best work as a writer and is Tyler Crook’s best work as an artist (yet, that is) because it tells the story of not just one character, Emmy, but a whole place — its good and its bad, its sin and its salvation.
Thankfully, the first library edition of this wonderful story, collecting the first two volumes of the book accompanied by sketches, short stories, editorial notes, and more is a delight, not a cash grab. That’s largely because what’s collected here leans into those narrative elements and highlights the creative process behind them in way that makes this a worthwhile purchase for those who have enjoyed the story before and provides a perfect introduction for those who haven’t.
What’s it about? Dark Horse’s description reads:
Emmy always knew that the woods surrounding her home crawled with ghosts and monsters. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she learns that she is connected to these creatures–and to the land itself–in a way she never imagined.
It’s a simple, focused and endearing plot that initially seems like it’s intended to be a kind of dark, coming-of-age character piece — and it is — but it’s also so much more by the end of its first two volumes through Bunn’s masterful pacing and sharp narration. What is initially a story about a young girl finding out monsters are real (and that she may be one) becomes about what a town will do to keep its secrets, what individuals will do to get away from, or redefine their histories, and what makes monsters…well, monsters that opens up wonderfully through dialogue and poetic narration seemingly beyond its means exceedingly well and endearingly with a dark wit and eye for lore building in a cool, effective way.
There are massive four eyed black devils, skinless boys, men with flowers growing out of their eye sockets, tar pits with bone monsters, and more all here to attach yourself to visually but not without a narrative reason or merit. Especially so, as Emmy’s sister, Kammi, a kind of affable but totally grotesque antagonist comes into focus that really highlights all of the value — it’s compelling, cohesive horror storytelling with a purpose. What’s not to love?
Crook’s art is the perfect complement. Not dissimilar to the fantastic work Benjamin Dewey is doing on Beasts of Burden currently, he employs a watercolor palette and effect that channels the childlike wonder, innocence and energy of Emmy’s world but also brings to light just how horrible and wrong so much of this is. Things are genuinely shocking — grotesque skins hang in the wind, mutilated animals, and even rotten food all have a certain off-putting quality that, surrounded by an otherwise inviting world, feel highlighted and energized in a great way. The visual storytelling here is as equally sharp, if not sometimes sharper, than the dialogue and narration. A total harmony is achieved between the two more often than not that, even when the pace slows down and drags as it does a little too frequently throughout the first volume, one or the other carries the reader faithfully forward.
It makes sense, then, that Crook’s short stories (alongside Bunn’s) collected at the back of this edition offer a great deal of additional value to the story and world that our characters find themselves in. Mostly, because in the end, not only are Emmy, Pa, Bernice and Kammi characters, but so too is Harrow County itself. It’s a dark, deceptive and secretive place full of monsters, shadows, moments of levity and more that shines both on a macro and micro scale that these stories get to expand in a short form in a wonderful way and their inclusion doesn’t feel tacked on so much as it feels wholly welcome alongside interesting sketches, notes about the creative process, ads, and more. It’s all worthwhile.
And that’s really the takeaway here. Even for those who have visited Harrow County before, or who may have bought its initial offerings (like I have), there’s still something worthwhile here. I highly recommend you check it out. There’s no better time than now.