Through the woods with graphic novelist Emily Carroll, the new queen of gothic horror

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Through the woods with graphic novelist Emily Carroll, the new queen of gothic horror

Carroll's work is a chilling phantasmagoria that recalls the roots of the horror genre.

Gothic horror, which is the oldest form of the genre, is all about decay. The stories take place in creepy old mansions and feature an outsider (usually a nervous young woman) discovering sanity-shattering secrets from the past affecting the haunted souls in the presence. Ghosts, poisoners, widows/widowers who may have killed their spouses, heroines creeping through the gloom in a night dress with only a candleabra to light their way, and other distinctive tropes have made the genre memorable.

One of the most exciting creators of gothic horror these days is Canadian graphic novelist Emily Carroll. She built her fanbase doing terrifying webcomics on the internet, specifically with the murderous monster tale "His Face All Red." Other webcomics like "Out of Skin," "The Hole The Fox Did Make," and my personal favorite "Margot's Room."

She later released the Eisner and World fantasy award winning Though The Woods.

In an interview with That Shelf, Carroll was asked about the horror genre and her choice of isolated woods as a favorite setting:

EC: The woods theme only revealed itself in retrospect actually— dealing with so many fairy tales as inspiration, I end up setting the majority of my stories in one mysterious forest or another without even thinking about it. When I had finished the book and looking back on all the stories, it was the first title to spring to mind, until then the collection had just had a very temporary, generic title.

"Spooky stories in general though have always held a fascination for me, and while I read all sorts of genres, when it comes to creating stories of my own I take a special satisfaction in getting a scary one just right.  I’ve been making creepy web comics for a few years now, and I suppose I just wanted to tackle the challenge of capturing a similar eeriness on the printed page too."

Her most recent book, When I Arrived at the Castle was hailed as one of the greatest graphic novels of 2019. From the SyFy article:

"When I Arrived at the Castle was widely acclaimed, named one of the best books of 2019 by several critics. As with many of Carroll’s stories, this is based in an ancient trope: the elegant woman who lives alone in an isolated mansion, pulling in stray victims from neighboring towns. A woman comes to kill her for her crimes and is led through a horror show of myriad fables after she is trapped in a great hall of doors and forced to choose one after the other. Told in black, white, and red, with a sense of relish for old lesbian vampire and haunted house tropes, When I Arrived at the Castle manages to tread familiar ground by breaking through it entirely. As always, a key to Carroll’s work lies in revealing an equally chilling tendency towards monstrosity in the protagonist as in the antagonist. While her previous works are easily masterpieces in and of themselves, this story is perhaps the one that most clearly defines the many pre-existing themes — hidden monsters, short, dreamlike interludes, isolation, and scenery that interacts with the story as if it is itself a character."

Reading an Emily Carroll story is an unsettling experience, especially if you're expecting safety and a satifactory happy ending waiting for you at the end. Her characters remain haunted, and are often consumed by the evil they were fleeing from. "For me it’s subtlety, ambiguity, and more often than not a generous helping of very earthly misery. I don’t like everything being resolved, I don’t like there ever being even the possibility of a solution really."

Check out her incredible work, including some of her most beloved stories, at

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