New To You Comics #65: Southern Fried Gothic Horror In ‘Harrow County’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, pro wrestling, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Most of the time they can reach some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Dark Horse Comics’ Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints, by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. Here’s what Dark Horse says about the book:

‘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.’

Brendan Allen: The first time I read a chapter of Harrow County was way, way back when I was a baby comics journo, working on the blog side of a Portland based internet comics retailer’s website. 2016? Sounds about right.

We didn’t have a whole lot of control over the books we’d review, and a lot of times it would be singles out of the middle of a story arc. They assigned me Harrow County #13, which is one of those middle of the story singles that doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense without the context of the rest of the story.

It was absolutely gorgeous, though. Between the visuals and the dialogue, lost as I was, it grabbed me enough to go back and read the first twelve, and then to pull every chapter moving forward. It was my introduction to Cullen Bunn’s work and probably my first horror comic ever. Needless to say, this is the comic that most influenced my current taste in comics. 

What did you think?

Tony Thornley: Of the stuff we’ve talked about that you picked, this is the series I’m probably most familiar with. And really, we’ve given each other the power to veto for whatever reason, and of all the series we’ve done, this is the last one I’d have vetoed. I think, hands down, this might be the best horror comics series of at least the past decade, maybe longer.

Brendan: Oh, I agree. One hundred percent. Witchcraft, monsters, murder, and suspense in a classic Southern coming-of-age tale. This is probably my favorite Cullen Bunn joint, and is easily in my top three stories of all time. 

So much going on in just these first four chapters, and it all fits together so beautifully. It really is a masterclass in horror. And comics. 

Tony: It’s also a masterclass in plain ol’ storytelling. There’s a ton of world building here, an entire mythology that’s laid out, but not fully laid bare. The whole world of Harrow County is hinted at, even if we really only see about… six or seven miles around Emmy’s house until the last two pages. The characters are all fully realized, from Emmy to Bernice to even the Skinless Boy. You may not get the full picture now, but they’re there.

Brendan: Even the characters and parts of the landscape that aren’t fully formed, there’s a reason for that, and when it comes up down the line, it makes perfect sense. They had this thing laid out several arcs in advance. No clumsy retcons or weak reasoning later on to cover plot holes. 

Tony: Yeah. Bunn does keep it somewhat limited in this volume (and smartly so) with only about a half dozen characters getting speaking roles, and a tight, narrow focus to the story. It’s clearly an ongoing series, but these four issues have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, that you get a complete story, but also more than enough to hook you for volume 2 onward. You want to know if Emmy will break bad, and how if she does.

Brendan: And like I said, that first chapter I read, way back when, when I was plopped into the middle of this thing with no context, that one chapter was enough to make me want to know everything about these people and this place. The art was a HUGE part of that initial hook. 

Tyler Crook’s watercolors are beautifully unsettling. Uniquely horrifying, while somehow maintaining a wholesome, small town feel. It’s an odd balance, but it works so well it’s absurd. There are the big monster events, but even in the quiet moments, there’s a presence, some awful thing cooking in the peripheral, just out of sight.

I’m looking at the individual floppies of the first four chapters. I’m trying to remember if they used Crook’s title pages as chapter stops in the trade paperback. I think they did. He did this really cool thing for the title pages where he integrated the title into the opening spread.  It’d be spelled in the clouds, or inscribed on a tombstone, or made up of intertwined branches on spooky dead trees. Just a really cool touch. 

Tony: Yeah, I first read the series in a mid-series issue like you did, and the #1 thing that made me go back to the beginning was Crook’s work. I forget what issue it was (maybe #19?), but there was this short introduction, then this page turn to this beautiful two page spread of Emmy looking over her family farm done in pencil and watercolor. I think there might have even been a skull in the clouds, but otherwise, it was a breathtaking landscape.

There is so much to recommend this book for looking at just the art. Crook just keeps one-upping himself. You get the creeps with the introduction, and Hester’s terrifying presence. The design of the Skinless Boy, the hulking Abandoned… Just a visually stunning book.

 

Brendan: Oh, the skinless boy. That kid is such an important character throughout the series. Doesn’t talk much, but he’s really the only other character Emmy can fully trust. And that same flayed look that didn’t work for me at all with last week’s book is perfect in Harrow County. The times we see the skin? It’s so creepy seeing human leather, all floppy and boneless. Gets me every time.

Tony: Totally, but then all the haints have that effect on me. The Elder God-esque Abandoned. The burning skeletons in the graveyard. Even the ordinary people who Hester created from scratch… The moment we meet them, learn what they really are, Crook gives them this sinister quality that’s hard to button down. It’s such a bummer that the main series only lasted about three years, just because I’d love to see Crook just keep creating in this world.

Brendan: For sure. Naomi Franquiz did a bang up job in the first Tales From Harrow County spin off, Death’s Choir, and Emily Schnall will be pulling lines and watercolor in the upcoming Tales From Harrow County: Fair Folk in July. I haven’t seen the interior art for Fair Folk yet, but Crook is still involved with the new series as the letterer, so I’m sure there’s at least some level of guidance he’s giving the new artists on catching that Harrow County aesthetic.  

Tony: So I think it’s fair to say, we both love this book. It’s smart storytelling, creepy as hell, and gorgeous to look at.

Brendan: Absolutely. Fair. I’m also definitely going to queue up the second and third arcs to visit down the line. What’s up next on your end?

Tony: We’re going to do one of my all-time favorites- All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Perhaps the greatest Superman story ever told. I think you’ll have fun with this one.

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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