By Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
Oh, hells no! Any other utterance upon reaching the final page of Harrow County would be indicative of a truly twisted, morbid mind. Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook have created a near-perfect blend of words and illustrations, a rich and textured affair that is one of the most evocative atmospheric works you’re likely to find in the comic medium. It’s not even a haunting feeling you’re left with after reading this inaugural issue; it is a much more visceral and chilling experience that only true horror is capable of. Fear has never looked so good.
Years ago, members of the small community of Harrow Country came together to do something terrible in the name of what, they hoped, was a greater good. They watched as their act was emblazoned upon a crooked oak tree and turned to nightmarish memories that echoed throughout their rural community and throughout the years. Now as Emmy approaches her 18th birthday on her Pa’s farm, she looks out her window at that same, now scarred, oak and listens to its ghastly whispers. Things are changing for Emmy and for her southern farm community as the sins of the past rear their heads in gruesome fashion.
The horror genre has always been a tricky affair in comics because regardless of how skilled the creators are at pacing and building tension, ultimately the reader can still control the speed at which they want to take in the information, thereby removing some of the intended impact of a scare or diminishing rising tension. Unless you plan on reading Harrow Country with your eyes closed however, that’s not going to be problem because this book is 100% inescapable atmosphere that bleeds devilish discomfort.
It’s not just the rural setting replete with unsettling ominous trees and the suffocating desolation, it’s the sense of quiet and stillness in between the more overt grotesqueries that is the most frightening. As you enter this world, it becomes apparent that whatever foulness is afoot is not only powerful and ever-present, it is absolutely inescapable.
Bunn and Crook are working together in such frenetic tandem, that one cannot evaluate one’s contribution without mentioning the other. The art enriches the words and the words in turn empower the art further. Bunn’s characters speak truthfully o their surroundings and circumstances, both geographically and temporarily and lets Crook’s earnest, confident line deliver the appropriate weight to their words. The disembodied third-person narrator Bunn employs adds a greater sense of dread, a sense that something horrible is going to happen to these characters and we are all going to have to watch it happen together. Harrow County reads like haunted novel that crawls off the page thanks to Crook’s densely textured paints that blotch the characters’ skin, and streaks the night sky with what seems like a thousand water-colored cools.
Often the use of a watercolor application imparts a wistful, dream-like feeling, but not here. Good lord, not here. Instead that technique is applied in a layered, heavy fashion that grounds the world in a horrifying familiarity, rich with all manner of textures and the applications are confidently visible; the blots are layered, the streaks are clear and the stains run amok. You don’t just get a sense of this world, you feel this world. The cracked, wind weathered cheeks and the crumpled, muddied overalls are practically tangible. Subverting the traditional approach of making a horror book be literally dark and shadowy, Crook’s pages are almost universally vibrant which actually makes the events of this issue ever scarier.
In the course of just one issue, Bunn has instilled great depth to Emmy; her relationship to her father, her optimism, her desire to want to see a bigger world and her sense of obligation to never act on that desire. She’s easy to empathize with, which makes Bunn all the more cruel in what he hints will be her future. That future is of course, inexorably linked to this damned county’s past.
Harrow County is that landscape painting that hangs above your country kitchen table brought to life and infused with palpable evil by way of the devil himself. Bunn and Crook are co-conspirators in a genuinely frightening conspiracy of lies and nightmares that belies the inviting, alluvial visuals immediately apparent. It’s a rare feat to be able to convey real dread and yes, horror in this medium, but Harrow Country absolutely relishes in causing you cryptic unease as you find yourself unable to look away. Without a doubt, pick this up and prepare yourself to listen to the silence give way to the flutter of crows’ wings give way to the crackle of dried leaves underfoot give way to the unending whispers.