By Kris Straub
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I admit – I’m not a big fan of horror. Still, I know there’s good horror, and then there’s things jumping out of cupboards going abloogy-woogy-woo. The main difference is that of subtlety. Yeah, monstrosities from beyond the void jumping in your face are scary, but just glimpsing them, without never realising their full scale, will leave you with a much more lasting discomfort and fear. And the best horror doesn’t even rely on the monsters – they’re usually just a symptom of something much more hidden and sinister.
Welcome to Broodhollow.
Wadsworth Zane, as befitting his name, is a pretty weird guy. He’s a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in 1930’s USA – a profession which the economic crisis renders quite unneeded – but more importantly, he suffers from anxiety and a whole bunch of compulsive disorders. Opening and closing the mailbox dozens of times, verifying every door in the house is closed before going to sleep – you know, the usual. He gets a letter originating in the titular town, informing him of a distant relative who lived there, died, and left him their inheritance. And so he goes to investigate, and thus we’re introduced to our second main character.
No, not the dead uncle – the town of Broodhollow. It’s not sentient or anything, but it just… never feels right. The people are over-friendly, and have a weird obsession with holidays – hence the town’s nickname, “The Town of a Thousand Holidays”. The streets are colorful during the day and quite creepy come nighttime, and almost everyone Zane meets assumes he’s going to become a permanent resident. The place by itself is unsettling enough to be interesting and curious. And then there are the ghosts and the gigantic bats.
These phenomena sometimes, though rarely, appear as abruptly as in that previous paragraph, and break through the veneer of peace. Most times though they hover at the edge of sight, and since the story’s told from Wadsworth’s point of view – which is unreliable to say the least – we’re just as quick to dismiss them as part of his neuroses as the town’s residents are. However, since the reader does see the ghosts as well, there’s a creeping doubt underlying this dismissal: what if it is real, and everyone else simply can’t see it? What is wrong with this place? And without noticing, some of Zane’s uncertainty and neurosis is reflected in us. On the other hand, maybe it’s not real, and then – what the hell is wrong with Zane? This is built up so that when the revelations finally hit, things don’t merely feel not right – they feel downright terrifying.
The contrast between the superficially peaceful town and the dark secrets it holds is emphasized beautifully by the artwork. Most of the time, it’s simple and cartoonish, with designs that contribute to the last-century feel, but are still quirky enough – especially in visualizing Zane’s anxiety – to feel vaguely discomforting. And on the rare occasions the monsters come out of the darkness, they’re – simply put – frightening as hell.
The weakest point of the comic so far (it’s only halfway through the second chapter by now) is the secondary characters. There are few of them, and so far they mostly have no real depth, and I tend to view them as facets of the town rather than as having their own individual personalities. There’s the Girl, the Shrink, the Bad Guy, and so on. This seems to be starting to change in the current arc, so time will tell.
As I said, I’m usually not a horror fan. More experienced or jaded readers might stay completely unimpressed at things which made me whisper “nooooo, Zane, not you toooooo…!” to the screen (true story). But to me, those moments are horror at its most effective, its most enjoyable. When I’m invested enough in the story to care what happens, and what happens is slowly but surely revealed to be disturbingly fucked up.
So give Broodhollow a visit. You might stay longer than you expected.