Harrow County Volume 1 is a folk/fantasy horror published by Dark Horse Comics. Written by Cullen Bunn with art and lettering by Tyler Crook. 18 years ago in Harrow County, townspeople burned a woman on account that she was a witch. She slowly put the town through hell, She controlled the citizens, consorted with demons, and murdered babies. Years later, young Emmy starts finding strange creatures of her own. Signs are beginning to show, starting with some calves dying mysteriously, and others healing from awful ailments. As more of these signals are told, rumours start to fly about another witch among the community. Emmy is unexpectedly thrown into a world of suspicions without even knowing what potential she holds.
When interviewed by But Why Tho?, artist Tyler Crook described the construction of Emmy as follows: “I try to approach all my characters with the understanding that they want something. Often they want many different things and sometimes they want things that are in conflict with each other. I don’t know if I agree that I’m able to show innocence and danger simultaneously but I hope that I’m able to show the effects of a character’s internal conflict on the page.”
The plot of Harrow County is absolutely extraordinary. The most notable aspect of the story is the concept of misdirection. The first chapter will set up the reader for an expectation, with the witchcraft element the most glaring factor. Within the opening pages, it is reminiscent of The VVitch with how the folk horror genre is explored. But this is subverted entirely by Bunn, who takes the tale in a new direction. At the end of each chapter is an unexpected twist that changes Harrow County Volume 1 to its core. The themes of folk horror remain true. An unsettling, creepy community that is bound together out of distrust. Hidden secrets through generations that probably led to the threat itself.
Featured inside this issue is one of Bunn’s most distinctive protagonists. The progression that Emmy goes through is fantastic to behold. She begins as an innocent farm girl, cut off from much of the outside world as her father seeks to protect her, or to keep an eye on her. But from her first exposure to the true horror that this land has to offer, she shifts. She has a strength and determination that can keep her alive, especially when she is alone. She can talk kindly to people, disarming them and keeping her from harm. But there is a powerful edge to Emmy that makes her terrifying. The pleasant way she speaks denotes a kindness, but her threats can leave potential victims quivering.
The art is gorgeous. This is a very suspenseful comic, and the visuals are key to building that. One of the defining features of Harrow County Volume 1 is the Haints, these magical beings that the original witch conjured and consorted with, that still linger in the forests. Each one has their own design and their own personality. Some get a cameo, whilst others play pivotal roles in Emmy’s adventure. The first one that is seen is an absolutely jaw-dropping piece of horror, expertly designed by Crook. “I think my favorite haint in Harrow County is Priscilla. I like how she is motivated by her goblin nature but also attracted to the human world through Emmy and Bernice. I think it makes for a really fun character.” Crook told But Why THo?.
The way the artist unflinchingly reveals is an awesome statement. The monsters alter the comic’s influences from The VVitch to a macabre Wizard of Oz. Each one clearly has a subtle, untold backstory that makes the reader yearn for more from them. Crook uses brilliant misdirection that keeps the haints slightly out of sight or in the shadows. So when the reader’s eyes do catch them, there is a moment of shock.
The colours, also by Crook, are stunning. Watercolour paint is used to bring life to the comic, and it is so perfect for the style. The brush strokes are added in a way that they play with your mind, even innocently. Once the reader understands the idea that figures can be lurking in the background, they are looking at every detail to try and make out faces or silhouettes. The manipulation of shadows to create a “darker than dark” is intense and can instigate a gut-punch of fear. Crook’s depiction of the gore and mud is revoltingly brilliant, but there are also moments of poignant beauty, masking the terror within.
When asked how he was able to dictate these tones in his scenes, Crook told But Why Tho? “As an artist, I’m limited to visual tools like composition, color, and contrast. But I think the most important part of leading the reader to a particular place emotionally is to show the characters expressing the desired feeling. If something in the story is upsetting, show a character being upset about it”
Harrow County Volume 1 is folk horror at its finest. The reader is taken on a journey that never seems to end, constantly going deeper into a disturbed and dark world. Often grim, sometimes sweet and always uncomfortable, Bunn plays with the emotions as he tells a gorgeous character story. Influences can be seen everywhere yet the comic is very original and distinct to the creator. The artwork is awe-inspiring and every single creature is fantastic in their designs. The reader feels immersed in a supernatural world that is constantly being explored.
Harrow County Volume 1is available where comics are sold.
Harrow County Volume 1
William is a screenwriter with a love of comics and movies. Once referred to Wuthering Heights as “the one with the Rabbits.”