Are you reading Paper Girls and enjoying it? Did you want to enjoy Morning Glories but thought it was too over the top in the high school tropes and creepy sexual tension? Then you should consider making The Woods your next read.
The story starts in 2013 in a Wisconsin high school, with the focus on half a dozen teenagers. Everyone is facing rejection—from college, school plays, and potential relationships—and no one is getting what they want. It might as well be the end of the world.
Thankfully, most of these teenage troubles fade away when the entire school is transported to an alien lunar world. Only a black triangular stone with mysterious green markings gives any promise of explanation as to why this abduction has happened. The alien premise and the color scheme definitely inspires comparisons to Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls, but the feel of the story is as if the style of Paper Girls met the fantastical reality of Lumberjanes, with a much darker and more serious hold.
The storytelling is not omniscient and our exposure to this alien world develops as the characters discover new things. We’re in the dark just as much as they are, which makes us a part of their traveling troupe. While you’re getting sucked into the details of the conflicts at hand, keep in the back of your mind that this is all taking place not on a planet, but a moon. This is established early on with semi-frequent reminders so that you can understand in moving forward that the story is similarly revolving around something much bigger than it first appears.
The slow (but steady) pacing in the relatively brief first volume gives a taste of something promising, but without much of a hook to keep reading. However the second volume takes time to develop the characters through flashbacks to their time in school, and it becomes evident that these are real characters with real problems: family tensions, struggles with anxiety, and closeted identities. Teens could easily find themselves in this story without finding themselves as exaggerated caricatures. While the character relationships become somewhat predictable, it is because the characters are recognizable and lovable folks rather than overused and tired tropes.
The art is solid—supportive and not distracting, with appropriately expressive character faces and excellent (and terrifying) monsters. The flow of the story and the format of the panels are easy to follow and, while it’s not pushing the boundaries of what a comic can be, it leads to a smooth reading experience. It’s clear that the writer and the artist work well together as a close team as the writing and the art never seem at odds. The color scheme is consistent, giving a dreamy twilight feel to the entire book through blues, reds, pinks, and purples. It feels as if it is always nighttime in the woods, which deepens and reinforces the suspense. Green and yellow-green shades are used sparingly and quickly become recognizable as signs of terror and evil. Unsurprisingly, the single issue covers feature more and more green as the story progresses.
One aspect aspect of the writing I deeply appreciated, and one that sets it aside from other high school comic book stories, is the fact that the minor characters are actually fulfilling roles in the story. They’re not simply present for filler; they have names and they have purpose. They are connected to the main characters and, should something happen to a minor character, the main characters actually react to the circumstances, demonstrating a carefully constructed world.
As for weaknesses, the first volume is rather slow-paced on its own, but reading the first two volumes together makes The Woods feel like a more complete story and develops a greater urgency to continue the story. The content is solidly T for Teen, including implied nudity (conveniently censored) and some (non-gory) blood and violence.
The Woods, vol. 1: The Arrow
The Woods, vol. 2: The Swarm
by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas
Boom! Studios, 2014-2015
Publisher Age Rating: 14-17 years old