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“HARROW COUNTY #1” (Comic Book Review)

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Nothing quite hits the horror fan in the heart like a good Southern ghost story, what with their weeping willows, cursed towns and cemeteries that stretch for miles into the setting sun. Throw in a wise old man mumbling about how much “you don’t want to go down that road,” and you’re all set. HARROW COUNTY #1 takes all that classic imagery, paints it in earth-worn colors of the farmland and sets it free to terrorize your overly religious aunt. While perhaps more of an homage to classic horror than a wholly original piece, it is the comics dedication to giving its readers the perfect subtle scares while staying true to the old school ‘haints’ of the South that really gives it a voice.

The comic, like any good work, opens up with a bang: a woman hangs off a tree, a lit with flames and laughing maniacally at the scared locals who put her there. We quickly learn that she is a witch and with her last dying breath, she curses those who have killed her, promising to come back. Quickly, the comic jumps eighteen years ahead and our lead, Emmy, is having dreams of the tree outside her house, the same one that the witch was hung on all those years ago.

Of course, Emmy has no idea about that, she’s too busy trying to figure out why so many of her and her father’s farm animals are being born mutated and dead. As the story progresses, we get a quick peek at a smart but bored young girl who is curious about her world around her; which is exactly why she finds herself in the woods, yearning to talk to someone… even if that someone is a lot more sinister than they seem.

Visually, this work is beautiful, and the water color art by Tyler Crook is incredibly on point. From the sweeping landscapes to the subtleties of the human face, he skillfully details each panel as if his pen is directly connected to his brain. His water color work is the perfect choice for the material, invoking a feeling of that particularly dreamy world that could so easily create tie-in horror.

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In fact, just the cover itself is strong enough to grab the reader: a horrid image of draped human skin slithering out a drawer, with the eyes of the suit alight with malevolence. With the interior art and story, the design spits on the face of the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” as it beckons you to open its pages and swallow you whole in its muted tones and fleshy inks.

The story by Cullen Bunn is perfect for what it’s trying to do but drops short of being an entirely original work. That’s not to say that the story is boring or slow or unimaginative; it’s absolutely none of that, but it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before. From FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND to minor stories in the BPRD universe to even THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the backwoods curse/monster stomping around a town that ‘just didn’t know any better’ is a very common theme. But, as stated, what Bunn did with that specific premise is great on its own terms.

The pacing and character personalities are very well done, creating that excellent subtly that is required for a true Southern ghost story versus turning into a hillbilly free-for-all. The dialogue is appropriate and flows smoothly and the reader instantly identifies with Emmy as she is caught in the conflict of staying on the farm or exploring greener pastures. Obviously, you can’t ignore the witch and monster creatures that lurk on the corners of the story either ,and with Bunn’s subtle hand at creating horror, you just never seem them coming.

Though HARROW COUNTY#1 is still in its infancy, it has plenty of time to come in to its own. Until then, take comfort knowing that there is at least still a place where old magic can scare up new monsters, and that place is on the comic shelf.

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About the author
Svetlana Fedotov http://facebook.com/vladkicksass
Svetlana Fedotov hails from the wild woods of the Pacific Northwest. She loves horror and comic books, and does her best to combine those two together at any cost. She also writes for the horror site Brutal as Hell and sometimes for the magazine Delirium. Svetlana has recently released her first novel, Guts and Glory, under the pen name S.V. Fedotov on Amazon digital.
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