The titular Harrow County is a rural Southern town where sins of the past haunt the townsfolk, and fuel their superstitions. The book opens with the death of a witch at the hands of Harrow County residents, and in classic, if not cliched form, the witch vows to return and punish them. Years later we meet our protagonist, Emmy, who lives on a farm with her father. She seems unaware of the town’s history and the witch’s fate, but she has nightmares about the tree the witch was hung from, and knows all about the haints and monsters that people say lurk in the forest nearby. As Emmy approaches her eighteenth birthday, she finds she may be more connected to them than she ever dreamed. Things are going to change for her and for the town, and someone will have to pay for the blood Harrow County has spilled. In this first volume of the series, we learn more about the dark history of the town, and follow Emmy as she faces various horrors, human and inhuman, in a quest to understand what’s happening to her and why.
The use of watercolor and the particular hues chosen give the story a warm, earthy, familiar feel that contributes to the horror by making it something very close and real. The artist, Tyler Crook, has a real knack for creating dark, spooky scenes that are also quite beautiful in their eeriness. He and the author Cullen Bunn have created unique and visually striking supernatural creatures to populate the woods of Harrow County. Bunn is no stranger to horror comics, as he has also written series like The Sixth Gun, The Damned, and most recently, another rural horror like Harrow County called Death Follows.
Bunn and Crook do an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere and a compelling protagonist. Emmy is vulnerable but strong in the face of her terrific circumstances. In just one volume, we see a clear and smooth character arc for her, as she learns more about who she is and who she could become. I was pleasantly surprised at the turn the story took, since it’s so common for stories that begin with burning witches and curses to tread the same ground from beginning to end. Harrow County has its own spin, and I like where it’s going. It also allows for moral complexity, which acknowledges that there is no absolute good and pure evil. There is instead an exploration of how people and creatures can be both depending on the choices they make. If you dig in, you can see deeper themes on the experience of being an outsider, the ethics of creation, and how communities turn to paranoia and fear to deal with difficult choices.
This is a horror story, so there are frightening scenes with some blood and gore that may be difficult for younger teens who aren’t comfortable with those kinds of images. But otherwise this is a wonderfully creepy book perfect for teens and adults who like a little mystery and fairy tale in their supernatural horror.
Harrow County, vol 1: Countless Haints
by Cullen Bunn
Art by Tyler Crook
Dark Horse, 2015