When I read Emily Carroll’s debut graphic novel, Through the Woods, earlier this year, it was a sunny Saturday morning, but despite the decidedly cheery weather, I nevertheless found myself squealing in terror thanks to her expert timing, eerie illustrations, and ominous handwritten fonts. That kind of delightful, giggly scare-fest is the stuff campfire dream are made of, and I’ve been hooked ever since. When I learned that she had just finished her latest webcomic, When the Darkness Presses, I immediately clicked over and knew I was in for a treat when I arrived at the first spooky page:
I won’t get into the plot too much here, since it’s a short piece and the suspense is so delicious. But here are the bare bones: a young woman is house-sitting while the family spends the summer away. The woman’s friend visits, and they saunter around the house, admiring the family’s lush things and the young daughter’s cute bedroom. But at night, the bad dreams start. Carroll’s work is already masterful on a static sheet of paper, but she uniquely uses the digital medium to add eerie life to this story. By shifting layouts and scrolling directions and using animated gifs, she elevates the creepiness with herky-jerky movements and subtle shifts in grayscale that make the text shudder (it might make you shudder too).
At the core of it, though, is creeping psychological horror. There’s no blood or gore in this webcomic, and there’s not a meat hook or woodsman’s ax in sight. Instead, Carroll cultivates an unsettling sense that something is amiss in her scratchy and smudgy black-and-white panels. The girls don’t have names, they’re both full of secrets expressed in pregnant sidelong glances, and there’s a weird emptiness to the house, which is emphasized by the stark black backgrounds on many of the pages. Even moments of sunny, warm color somehow feel sinister.
This particular story is complete, and there are many more at Carroll’s site (check out Out of Skin for a gorier terror). If you’re settling in for a dark and stormy night (with wifi, natch) or in the mood for a spine-tingler, Carroll’s irresistible webcomics are just the ticket.