Friday, December 26, 2014

Comic of the Year [2014]: FRONTIER #6 by Emily Carroll

I was familiar with Emily Carroll’s name, but not with her work.  Until this year.  I read her collection, Through the Woods, and was terribly impressed with it.  So when I saw she had done the most recent issue of Youth in Decline’s quarterly monograph series, Frontier, with a story titled “Ann by the Bed,” I decided to check it out.  Am I ever glad I did.  This is easily my favorite comic of the year.

Since reading “Ann by the Bed” a few weeks back, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  Horror is tough to do in comic form.  There are no musical cues, as with film and television, to enhance one’s emotional reaction and add dread or discomfort to a scene.   Any use of gore within the comic medium can never be as visceral as that found in film, and the scare tactics utilized within those other visual media are almost impossible to replicate in comic form.  So, despite rare exceptions, horror doesn’t work in comics.  But if a creator chooses to attempt a horror comic, one is often left with creating a moody, atmospheric narrative as the best approach.  Emily Carroll achieves that brilliantly. 

“Ann by the Bed” revolves around the grisly murder of a young girl, Ann Herron, and her family in early twentieth-century Canada, and the urban myth that has come to surround this heinous act.  In later years, it has become a parlor game, of sorts, similar to the Candyman myth or a Ouija board, utilized by older children to scare themselves and their friends.  Carroll interweaves the “true” history of Ann Herron (I place the word true in quotes because I am uncertain about whether Carroll created the history of Ann Herron for this tale, or if it is, in actuality, a true historical happening) with various instances of children playing Ann by the Bed, and the odd happenings that follow these games – often embodied by Ann Herron’s spirit visiting them. 

Presenting these disparate scenarios – Herron’s history and the varied children playing Ann by the Bed –adds a sense of gravity to the tale that insinuates itself into your psyche, as you read, ratcheting up the tension slowly even as your mind shifts from reading this as fiction and begins treating it as non-fiction.  Carroll capitalizes on this shift in perspective with the final page, a full-page image that burns itself onto the back of your brain as it lurches the breath from your lungs, leaving you wondering:  Will Ann visit me tonight, or will I be able to avoid dying in my sleep?

Carroll’s art, and the way she deftly teases out the narrative in this story, is phenomenal.  She creates a looming sense of unease that it is hard to shake off.  This is one of the most successful horror comics I’ve ever read.  Not only has the impact of the narrative remained with me, but I have also been pondering the craft encompassed therein.  This is a book I want to study a bit more, to try and fully understand how she pulled off this amazing feat.  It’s a rare creator who can imbue a narrative full of static images with such emotion and dread, and Carroll needs to be applauded for that.  She is a serious talent, and one whose work you should seek out (I know I’m going to be keeping an eye out for her comics and do a little digging to find what she’s done before).  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Highest recommendation.


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