Since I started my month of horror comics a bit late, I’ll be extending this binge read a bit longer than October. That month went by entirely too quickly! This week, I’m taking a look at Harrow County, a new series published by Dark Horse Comics which features a young girl learning about the dark legacy that dominates her town and her own connections to it. The creepy atmosphere of the series was a perfect choice for cold October/November nights. Harrow County is written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Tyler Crook (who had previously worked together on parts of the Sixth Gun series). The series has so far been collected into 6 volumes, the last of which just came out a week ago. Happily for me, I was able to get my hands on all six volumes so I’ll be talking about the entire series today.
Harrow County is a dark tale about a young girl growing up in a rural town surrounded by dangerous woods that are home to all manner of disturbing creatures. Known as Emmy, she lives on a farm with her father and has long known about the ghosts and monsters (collectively known as haints) which prowl the woods and is adept at staying away from them even as she plays and explores the woods around her house. But when strange signs and events start occurring around her eighteenth birthday, Emmy finds out that she may be more connected to the woods than she had ever thought possible. As Emmy learns more about the connection between the cruel witch Hester Beck and herself, she comes to realize that she may be more kin to the haints in the woods than the people in her life. The story focuses on Emmy’s attempts to understand where she comes from and the clashes she has with the other townsfolk, including her childhood friend Bernice. Ultimately, the series will come down to an all out battle for Harrow County’s soul with Emmy and Bernice at the heart of it. If they’re lucky, they’ll be able to save Harrow County and still call each other friend.
I loved Bunn’s Sixth Gun series so when I heard that he had a new horror series out, I had to read it. The series starts out a little slow in the beginning as Bunn and Crook introduce us to the creepy landscape of Harrow County and start to lay the groundwork for the revelations about Emmy’s birthright that set the stage for further confrontations. As the series progresses, it becomes a sort of amalgamation of Locke and Key and American Gods. After all, having gods walking among you isn’t necessarily a good thing. The slow ramping up of the horror from creepy to outright horrifying is very well done and characteristic of Bunn’s work on Sixth Gun. I actually enjoyed Harrow County even more because the mystical elements present here are less Weird West and more dark fantasy in the style of Neil Gaiman. Harrow County is creepy but enthralling. Once I picked up volume one, my curiosity to find out more about Emmy and her family kept me turning page after page. Some of the volumes are weaker than others but the characterization of Emmy and Bernice is compelling. Each believes that they are doing the best thing for Harrow County, even when it puts them at odds with each other and the fact that Bunn can make you care deeply for both speaks volumes about his storytelling.
While Tyler Crook only handled some of the art in Sixth Gun, his work is absolutely essential to the allure of Harrow County. His watercolor style and his willingness to make things not perfect create an atmosphere that’s at once enthralling and deeply disturbing. That almost mystical feel that comes naturally to watercolor and his habit of transitioning between details and sketches is a large contribution to the creepy feel of this series. There are a few issues in which guest artists are brought in and it just isn’t the same. The atmosphere changes without Crook’s style and I deeply hope that Crook and Bunn maintain the creative partnership that has given us this wonderful series.
Harrow County is the type of story I’d happily recommend to fans of Stephen King, Lovecraft and Locke and Key. It takes this almost idyllic idea of young girl living on a farm out in the sticks and slowly introduces creepy creatures and elements. As the story progresses, the dread and tension begins to tighten readers’ nerves more and more. It makes you suspect anyone beautiful of having seriously ulterior motives and question every friendship you’ve ever had. It’s not exactly flawless but if you like the creepy, dark fantasy side of horror, it’s well worth your time. The next volume of this series won’t be out until March so I will be biding my time most impatiently until then.