By Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
“Oh, this old thing? Just something I had lying around the woods, you know how it is with sentient sacks of children’s skin.” Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook continue their beautifully twisted coming-of-age tale rife with pastoral horror and communal sin. This second issue moves at a far brisker pace than the introductory entry while still managing to create those deathly quiet moments of near unbearable tension. If anything, the mystery is starting to unravel a bit too quickly, but that hardly hinders its atmospheric allure.
Picking up a few moments after last issue’s utterly perturbing (to say the least) conclusion, Cullen Bunn has his omniscient unknown narrator set horror tone with tactile descriptions of Emmy’s new “friend” and provide a little background on the local mythology of haints. Bunn’s captioning here wouldn’t be particularly remarkable if it sat alone in a prose piece, but when paired with Crook’s lurid visuals it really goes a long way to pull you into this very real, very haunted world. It’s playful at parts, like a children’s storybook would be (“A real live, haint!”) to match Emmy’s excitable mental state as well as give that extra dose of creepy by juxtaposing it atop a horror-fueled environment. The stereotypical rural dialect (with its “reckons” and its “right quicks”) is kept in check for the most part, but does occasionally awkwardly jut out as feeling less authentic and more forced.
The focus given to Emmy’s literal growth and maturation process from child to adult is the heart of this issue and Bunn has subverted that development by metaphorically attaching it to the demonic transformation that was feared by the locals. The little cues along the way that give insight into where Emmy is as a result of being a little secluded, but obviously smart, are subtle and clever like how she mentions she “may not know much about boys” but knows they can’t be trusted not to peek at a girl changing as well as the more overt “eighteen years and she’s showing signs.” Emmy is on the precipice of not only becoming a woman, but of becoming a monster, which is an experience many a young adult can relate to no doubt. Her world is being turned upside down and beyond just be confused and feeling betrayed, she’s in this nebulous place between states; “But she was no witch…no monster. Now…more than ever…she felt like a child.” It’s a highly effective means of engaging with Emmy, of seeing her make choices both childish and bravely mature and while her level of confusion may be unique to this most unnatural of circumstances, it still reads painfully familiar to many. And here she had just found her first boyfriend too. He’s kind of gross, but what boys aren’t?
Tyler Crook may dabble in witchcraft himself considering how mesmerizing his ability to invoke texture into every page is. Harrow County is gorgeous to look at and experience because of how tantalizingly natural he makes the unnatural subject matter feel. The opening page is a testament this organic effect that is the result of layering of each application he employs; the ink provides various levels of defining the shapes of trees, Emmy and the flora detritus with his bold line, and then the myriad of painted color provides the depth of texture. He lays down a base coat appropriate for the setting and then goes to town layering atop it a lush bucolic palette of varying washes that evoke a rural peace and a gruesome discomfort simultaneously. The chromatic fever dream of a vision that Emmy undergoes is especially eye-popping due to his trippy, tie-dyed palette; not to mention the deeply disturbing events that are rendered therein.
Crook’s cartooning style is a large part about what makes Harrow County as disturbing as it is. Characters are bereft of any unnecessary line work with no hatching or the like to interfere with the sublime colors and their texturing. Emmy’s eye alternate, depending on scale, from more realistic detailed portrayals to mere dots, which is a charming touch to get your guard down before the horrific reveals make themselves known. Crook manipulates the camera well depending on the setting, allowing it to be more static when Emmy is in her room alone and opting for more varied moment-to-moment cuts as she makes a run for it later. It’s all very controlled storytelling on Crook’s part with an evident amount of care put into the finishes that understandably grab your attention, but overshadow the subtler sequencing he’s laid out.
Things are happening fast in Harrow County with the immersive opening salvo having established the tone and issue #2 finds an adroit balance between thematic exploration and tension-filled action. The narrative is quickly peeling away at the gruesome details of the pact made amongst this community and the nature of the supernatural occurrences since, while placing the emotional focus on this confused, terrorized young woman who feels trapped between two radically different places with nothing to hold on to. Few titles in this genre are as dense and even fewer are this convincingly textured and realized only two issues in. Harrow County is an elegy of horror, one that straddles the line between childish curiosities and the unforgiving harshness of adulthood.