A paranoid encyclopedia salesman. An inheritance from an unknown relative. A town of secrets and smiles, secret societies, and maddening, terrifying things lurking just on the edge of sight.
Written by Kris Straub (he of Chainsawsuit and Candle Cove repute), Broodhollow follows encyclopedia salesman Wadsworth Zane, who suffers from the compulsive belief that his life is governed by a “Pattern” of behavior; following the Pattern preempts misfortune… or perhaps incurs it if broken. When a letter from a distant relative informs him he stands to inherit something, a down on his luck Wadsworth embarks on a trip across 1930’s America to the nearly forgotten town of Broodhollow – where nothing is what it seems and everything is just a little bit… off.
Straub’s elevator pitch for this series is “Tintin goes to Innsmouth” and it shows. The artwork, for the most part, is simple yet stylish, with clean, rounded character and background designs. “Simple”, however, is not to say unskilled; there are occasional panels full of rich, often times horrifying detail and the total effect, when used, is overall rather chilling. The scenes where the “cartoony” characters are juxtaposed against the much more detailed abominations really helps illustrate just how unnaturally alien they are. Straub also makes good use of background coloring itself to help set the tone of a scene, shifting subtly into gory reds, chilling blues, or eerie greens as tension builds, making it something akin to the background music in a film or show.
Wadsworth is a lovable ball of optimism and old-fashioned friendliness mixed with nervous wit and sheer, uncontrollable paranoia. It’s very telling that our introduction to Wadsworth is while he’s lying down on a psychiatrist’s couch. When Wadsworth fails to maintain his Pattern, terrible, ghostly things pop up to haunt him… and, sometimes, even hurt him. Or, at least, that’s what it looks like. It’s unclear whether the things that he sees are just part of his slightly deranged imagination or something much more real and sinister. It’s fascinatingly eerie just how understandable his obsession is when you consider that superstition is really just a kind of obsessive compulsion. Whatever the cause of his anxiety may be, it’s made progressively worse the longer he stays in Broodhollow. And stay he must, if he wishes to find any kind of answer to his hushed questions, like; What happened to his uncle?; Why is he being haunted?: Is he being haunted; Can he get his inheritance in cash?; And just what is the deal with Broodhollow?
Helping Wadsworth are his new friends: retired psychoanalyst Dr. Klaus Angstrom, who values science over superstition, but who nonetheless takes Wadsworth’s beliefs seriously, Iris Bellweather, the woman who sent him the letter informing him of his great grand-half-uncle’s
death passing, the Bottlefly Boys (Maurice, Morris, and Maris), large, burly chaps who immediately take a shining to Zane, and Mayor Osgood, the amicable leader of the Broodhollowans. There’s also an antagonist of sorts (though probably not of the supernatural kind… probably) in local business mogul Rutherford Planchett, who (thinks he) sees right through Wadsworth’s innocent newcomer act.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget adorable little Mercy.
The story so far is wonderfully eerie, melding equal parts Tintin with Lovecraft, just as promised, but at the same time giving it that Ichor Falls twist for which Straub is known. There’s a pervasive tension throughout the whole comic that builds gradually as the story progresses, occasionally lulling between spikes of drama only to surge back up again higher than before. Despite this, the comic is never actually “scary” in the same sense as a horror movie jump-scare. Instead of outright fright, Straub utilizes “dread”, that slow, slinking certainty that terrible things are bound to happen, the inverse of hope, the opposite of security. And that’s all that’s needed. Dread, tension, anxiety, fear, terror, paranoia, and madness – that is the nesting doll of horror story emotions.
Not only creepy, the comic also manages to be funny, too. Except when it’s used for genuine horror, Wadsworth’s anxiety is mainly played for laughs, his obsession the puppet strings that make him dance for our amusement. Angstrom’s tendency to “create” psychoanalytical terms that already exist and Planchett’s aggressive inability to see Zane as anything other than a business competitor are examples of other amusing quirks used for humor at the expense of their relevant characters.
Tense, humorous, creepy, and captivating, Broodhollow manages to walk the line between cartoon and horror story without missing a beat.
While Broodhollow is currently on hiatus as of this post, Chapter 2 is scheduled to begin sometime in October, which should give interested readers enough time to dig in and get creeped out. A recent Kickstarter for a print edition of Chapter 1: Curious Little Thing was wildly successful, so this tale of terror will soon find itself on the terrestrial plane, if your interested in it.