Thursday, June 16, 2011

His Face All Red

Quick Overview:
Title: His Face All Red
Author/Artist: Em Carroll
Released: Halloween 2010
Pros: Intuitive layout; masterful pacing; chilling conclusion
Cons: May give you nightmares

His Face All Red was my introduction to Em Carroll's art and comics. She has such a unique take on the medium, and my excitement goes through the roof whenever she comes out with something new. Her comics are designed especially for viewing online, with easily-navigable long-scrolling pages and minimal distractions. Although it is a horror story, I've given His Face All Red a G-rating, because the horror elements are poetic and understated. A lot is left to your imagination, so if you have an active one, beware...

This, like all of Em Carroll's sequential art so far, is a mini-comic, so my remarks in each category will be proportionately brief.
The story: There are two brothers: one handsome, beloved, and charismatic, one plain, overshadowed, and unappreciated. Their village's livestock is plagued by attacks from an unknown beast. Together, the brothers venture into the deep, dark woods to hunt the beast. Things do not go as planned for either of them.

The setting: A tiny, rural, turn-of-the-century-esque village surrounded by wild forest. This small, isolated, and tightly-woven community is powerfully evoked by beautiful, carefully chosen details.
The characters: The underdog brother is the main character, whose subtle, unsettling, confidential narration sucks you right into his haunted inner world. Of all the characters, you see his face the most — a face wearing a blank, stricken, unsatisfied expression. Other characters are rarely or partially portrayed, reinforcing the brother's feeling of isolation and invisibility. The popular brother's "plump young wife with starry eyes" is also rather fixated on, betraying a sense of jealousy and obsession on the unpopular brother's part.

The art: How to describe Em Carroll's art? It is a beautiful, evocative, unique marriage of contradictions — sweet and dark, playful and grim, flat and rich. His Face All Red is drawn with a loose, uninhibited immediacy that makes it feel intimate and real, like you're reading a diary or peering directly into someone's memory. The characters are simplified, evoking only what is most important about them, and doing so with elegant power. The colors are rich, vivid, and spontaneous, given depth with blotchy watercolor textures. (You can read about Em Carroll's process here.)

The writing: Mark Twain said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." If you've ever done any serious writing, you know the truth of this. The less room you have, the more punch every word has to pack. His Face All Red is a very brief story, and Em Carroll wastes no time or space with anything unnecessary. Details are pitch-perfect, narration is spare but powerful, and the story ends at just the right moment to leave your heart pounding, like treading an uneven path in the darkness and suddenly feeling your foot fall — though — empty — air —

The bottom line: This is a watertight, superbly crafted little tale of horror. The story will chill you to the bone even as the art style charms and captivates you. Read, ponder, and shiver.

Rating: Five stars

>> Read His Face All Red here! <<

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