Welcome to The Harrow County Observer, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated “Harrow County” column. This installment we’re interviewing the artists behind issue #9, Carla Speed McNeil and colorist Jenn Manley Lee, and issue #12, Hannah Christenson. After that T. T. Wosker has some dire matters to discuss in “The Countless Haints of Harrow County”, then we check in with creators Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, and wrap things up with a preview of “Harrow County” #13.
Before we talk about your work on “Harrow County”, I wanted to ask what your relationship to the series was before you came on as guest artists. Were you all readers beforehand?
Carla Speed McNeil: Nope, I knew nothing. Daniel Chabon [editor of “Harrow County”] popped out of a magic mushroom at NYCC last year and said ‘Check out me pot o’ gold!’
Hannah Christenson: I’d seen “Harrow County” in my local comic book shop and remarked on the gorgeous covers, but I had never had the opportunity to read it until recently. Of course I’m a fan now!
Jenn Manley Lee: Like Carla and Hannah, I wasn’t that familiar with “Harrow County” before being asked to color for Carla. But happily now I am!
Tyler Crook’s visuals for “Harrow County” are very distinct, so how did you approach doing your own issues? Did any of you initially feel any need to adjust your style to fit with Crook’s?
Carla: The heavy lifting of meshing styles—or at least, making them look like they won’t clash—was done by Jenn. My character design and line isn’t across-the-room from Tyler’s to begin with, but the tone and texture of the book comes from his approach to color. I don’t paint. Luckily my brilliant colorist does.
Jenn: I definitely took a more watercolor approach in coloring “Harrow County” #9, as well as pull directly from Tyler’s established palette. However, I wasn’t after a direct imitation of his style; my goal was simply to have the art of Carla’s and my issue to live happily with Tyler’s. And have fun with it!
I think you succeeded in summoning up the mood of Tyler’s coloring without imitating it.
Hannah: I chose to stay pretty close to my own style while doing issue #12. Crook’s work is gorgeous, and while our styles are indeed very different, I hope that I’ve managed to exist somewhat peacefully in the “Harrow County” world.
I found the differences in your approaches really interesting. Plus both stories are very different from each other with very different needs. Issue #9 is focusing on the Skinless Boy. Up until now, the point of view of the series has been almost exclusively Emmy’s, but in this issue we’re diving into a radically different character. And he has different narrative challenges from Emmy. For one thing, he tends not to talk very much, and he tends to quietly observe. Furthermore, Cullen Bunn removed the usual narration, so what’s going on in the Skinless Boy’s head is open to interpretation. Carla and Jenn, how did you approach these challenges?
Carla: I love the Skinless Boy, poor terrible thing. I’m very glad he was the focus of my first issue. Treading the line between making him sympathetic and leaving him scary was extremely enjoyable. Giving him his moments to be alien and creepy, balancing these with moments in which he’s so lost and sad, that was a good mix. A very good mix. Silent sequences in which much is told with gesture and body language are things that I love to do. Even though the hobo character from that issue is very loquacious, what he says and what he means are not quite the same thing, so how he should be presented is very interesting too. And I got to draw pickled pigs’ feet, which is just a thing I never knew was in the bottom of my bucket list. Gross good fun.
“My first issue”. I like where your mind is going.
Carla: Hah! I would certainly do more if I was given the opportunity. I haven’t done much horror, and this book is compelling.Continued below
Jenn: And I got to color and render pigs’ feet! Reflecting firelight! Who knew it would be so rewarding?
And being a fan of anatomy drawings for as long as I could remember, I took great delight in coloring Skinless Boy, the poor lamb.
It’s interesting that you mention the hobo saying one thing and meaning another. I was particularly interested in the way his dialogue taken at face value means one thing, but it’s augmented by the image, particularly the lighting and his body language. The focus on his mouth makes the character particularly disquietening.
Carla: His menace is subtle. Not everything that’s creepy is bad… the Skinless Boy himself is very dangerous. The way the hobo arrives in the story, the way he’s introduced, that makes him scary, because the first thing he does is to snatch a bird out of the air and kill it, crumple it up the same way you’d wad up a grocery list you didn’t need anymore. He then digs holes in it with his fingers and plays it like a flute. Regardless of what this shows about how weird he is, what magical abilities he has, it also shows he’s callous and cruel and will use things as he sees fit. He’s like the preacher played by Bob Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter, whom nearly everybody loves at first sight, but whom the viewer knows is a murderer. As readers, we know that the Skinless Boy is pretty strong, pretty dangerous in his own right, but he’s also a child. He can be manipulated.
As far as the focus on the hobo’s mouth goes, I’ve been making a study of crooked and gappy teeth lately. Not a lot of character design includes details about teeth. Given his lifestyle, the hobo’s oral hygiene must be pretty good.
Jenn: My main thought with coloring the hobo was ‘travel stained.’ His colors are dirt and sky with greasy hair and wind burned face.
I really liked what you did with the Skinless Boy in that final sequence. Throughout “Harrow County” we’ve seen he tends to leave bloody footprints and hand prints, but it’s a subtle thing. However, at the end of this issue, there’s nothing subtle about it. There’re bloody footprints everywhere. It’s a misdirect, of course, to make us the reader think the Skinless Boy has crossed a line and either hurt or killed Caleb. But on the second read through, you know that’s all the Skinless Boy’s blood. It’s a powerful way to show the turmoil he’s in, and what an open wound he is both figuratively and literally.
Carla: Haints are supernatural, after all. They can’t be treated as literal biological creatures. They bridge the gap between real and non-real. Whether he leaves a mark that you can see has to do with his focus, his intensity. Like sweat, or tears. He leaves a mark on that which he reaches out to most strongly. But beyond that, the natural world’s rules are not the same as the otherworld’s.
He left that bloody hand print on Caleb’s face because he wanted to take away the image before him, of everything he’s lost and isn’t anymore. An anatomical diagram of Peter Pan is what he is.
Jenn: I like the image of ‘open wound’ as I feel the Skinless Boy is truly naked against the world in the truest sense. In all the senses.
I’ve been informed you’re both returning issues #17 and #18. Is this a two-parter or a pair of standalone stories?
Carla: Dunno! One of my issues, possibly both, involves that massive nightmare of a haint that Emmy met early on in her tenure as the new… overseer, I suppose. The one that’s all eyes and horns and ‘You ain’t all that.’ Beyond that, I don’t know. I’ll take whatever Cullen and Tyler throw me.
Hannah, issue #12 was somewhat more the standard “Harrow County” story, and yet your drawings are a huge departure from Tyler’s style, your approach to colors is very different, and you even did your own lettering. But it absolutely works. (Not that there isn’t a precedent for this. There are, after all, backups from different artists in almost every issue.)Continued below
I liked the way story is all in yellows and reds, the the greens blues take over as the ghosts emerged. You the greens enter the story when Emmy sits next to Gertie on the porch. I thought this was an effective way to have this presence that could bleed in and out of the story without having to literally show a ghost. There’s a sense of characters feeling it, like a shiver down their spine. Did you do much experimentation trying to figure out you could suggest elements of the story that weren’t physically in the frame like the ghostly presence?
Hannah: I definitely tried to make stark separations with color depending on the tone of the story. I stayed with reds and some calm yellows when there was a more human interaction, if that makes sense, but then I crept into blues and greens to hint at something unsettling. An uneasy undertone, then again into more dramatic or even garish greens for higher stress supernatural situations, and then back to reds and yellows. But not necessarily the same calm, warm colors. They’re deeper yellows and oranges, cooler reds now, the feeling has changed.
I liked the way you used the wallpaper pattern to change the intensity of a scene. In calmer moments, it’s barely there, hinted at with only a few lines, but as things spiral further out of control, those lines fill the frame.
Hannah: I tried not to include it wherever possible, but I did include it when the background would have been too empty without it.
Were there any sequences in this issue that changed from the script as you started drawing?
Hannah: Not that I remember, at least. There were panels that I redrew if they weren’t quite communicating clearly, but other than that it remained in tandem with the script.
Early on this one was going to be lettered by Tyler Crook, but you decided to do it yourself and in a manner that’s stylistically different from the issues.
Hannah: I’m not really sure why I decided to do it. To be honest, I just assumed I was doing it myself, so I didn’t plan for anything else. I am not the best letterer out there, but I felt that the thin, wispy lines in my drawing needed a light hand with lettering, if that makes sense. Or rather, an imperfect hand.
Yes, I agree. It’s a natural extension of the artwork. In particular, I loved the way you handled the sound effects. When the ghosts are swirling around Emmy and Gertie, it gave the sequence a strong physicality, like you could feel the air pushing against them. I loved how expressive they were.
Before you go, do you want to tell our readers what you’re working on next?
Hannah: At the moment, alongside some exciting freelance work, I’m working on my own comic project. It’s been really great to work on and I hope to release part of it early next year. I’m pretty excited about it!
There’s a darkness that blankets our humble county. I glean no pleasure in that statement, just sad, trembling truth. But what does it all say of me, dear readers? What sort of person sets about cataloging what others fear to even consider? How many words have I conjured from the hearts of nameless beasts? How many years have I made my meager living by drinking deeply from the darkness? And what does it all say about you, dear readers? You, whom without I’d have no mark toward which to aim my pen. There’s a darkness, certainly, and my fear is that it has made our hearts its residence.
I have but one story to share this week. A woman turned haint through tragedy. A woman named Lovey.
I have many memories of Lovey. She was a dear woman with a mind toward enterprise and warmth in her heart. A warmth that one would assume was free of the aforementioned darkness. My father, Lord rest him, would not infrequently make visits to Lovey’s remotely laid home. As a child, he would tell me that the woman had so much spirit in her that there were plenty to bottle and share with the townsfolk. I remember the heat of summer, and the song of spirited adults as I danced in the heavy August air.Continued below
I was not there that fateful day, but allow me to say that Hester Beck took something from me that day. At home, as I tended what needed tending, my father visited Lovey, as he so often would.
He saw many familiar faces, as he so often would.
He joined in song, as he so often would.
That was the day that the serpents came, if you subscribe to Lovey’s version of events. My mother never did, but I cannot begrudge her that. She was robbed that day, in ways I didn’t understand at the time. I, on the other hand, after years of research and writing, pondering and questioning, have come to understand the woman’s version of events to bear the brunt of cold scrutiny.
It is what came to follow that defies explanation.
I am not proud to admit this, but I have spent more than one occasion, under the cloak of a moonless night sky, huddled on the tree line that faces Lovey’s now dilapidated home. I was watching, and learning, about what it is the woman had become. I watched as she tended to the dastardly serpents that had taken so many fathers and mothers.
I admit with some degree of frustration and sorrow that, in the intervening years, I have yet to come to any reason why Lovey would tend these beasts. Why, after the witch Hester Beck met her end, she continued to do so. Never have I found reasoning for this woman, once so warm, to forge allegiance with another so cold. What does she gain? Why help Hester Beck?
I present to you, readers, a story with no conclusion, as it is one that continues to unfold. I write now out of fear. Fear that Lovey, who for so many years has lived free of all but one set of vigilant eyes, has deemed it necessary to spread her dark influence. There have been children. Children who play as adults and take upon themselves the burden of the serpents. They know not what they do. How can they?
I watch this from my place amongst the trees. Helpless. I dare not cross into view, for fear of unknown repercussions. I know not these children, but surely one of you must. Dear readers, please keep your young secure. Be vigilant as the night falls. Leave no shut doors, no secrets between you. For the love of family, please, do not let your child be the one to succumb to Hester Beck’s lingering influence. I am silently watching it happen, with none of the courage required to see it end.
And what does that say about me?
T. T. Wosker is an author of great renown and reputation. A life-long Harrow County resident, Wosker’s published works include “Are There Haints on the Moon?” and “When the Boy Did Not Return”, both available in paperback.
“Harrow County” #9–12 was an interesting batch of stories, exploring the series from other points of view. Issue #9, the story about the Skinless Boy, particularly surprised me. I just assumed he was a kid that had something horrible happen to him, but to learn that he’s quite literally a nightmare come to life… well, it’s somehow even more tragic. I still get chills thinking back to that ‘Tell me my name!’ moment. Can me about the evolution of this idea?
Cullen Bunn: One of the things I always want to do with this story is play against expectations. With a character like Emmy, who can actually reshape reality, we’re treading in serious ‘nothing is what it seems’ territory. I’m glad the tragic feel of the Skinless Boy’s true nature came across. I think it plays well with some of Bernice’s internal struggles in the next couple of issues.
Issue #9 was also a strange issue because it had no narrator. It gave the story a very different feeling. It was unsettling.
Cullen: I can sometimes place these weird ‘rules of consistency’ upon stories I write. The use of narrator captions could easily become one of those rules for me. Since I used them in one issue, my natural inclination is to make sure to use them in every issue no matter what. I have to actively force myself to break those habits in order to get different narrative results. In this case, I thought dropping the captions gave the story a sense of strangeness. While most issues will feature the captions, there will be others that do not. There will also be issues featuring a different narrator.Continued below
Tyler Crook: I really like the narrator in “Harrow County”. A lot of modern comics seem to avoid narration which is a shame because it’s a great tool. And I think it helps reinforce the feeling of “Harrow County” as a fairy tale.
Or a tale told around a campfire. It’s an excellent way to modulate the mood, and Cullen’s excellent at it. The narrator’s never redundant, always adding another layer to the scene. Actually that was a favorite moment of mine in issue #10, when Bernice was walking along the path to Mason Hollow and it’s a nice day, but the narration paints this invisible world around her.
Cullen: I appreciate that. As much as I like the narrator captions, they can be the toughest part of writing the series. Every time I write a book that feature these captions, I tell myself that I’ll never do another one! But I always come back to them! Glad to know I manage to pull them off successfully every now and then!
I loved the Bernice two-parter. She’s my favorite character, and seeing the world through her eyes was fascinating. It also introduced some of the conflicts in her, that’s she’s Emmy’s friend, but she wants nothing to do with witches. And, of course, that she ends up working with Lovey, who is likely a witch. And it’s even possible that Bernice has some manner of witchery in herself.
Tyler: I’m a big fan of Bernice too. I really like how her reaction to the supernatural is so different from Emmy’s but it still leads them in a similar direction. Emmy feels naturally attracted to the haints of Harrow County and feels compelled to get involved because of her attraction to them but Bernice is compelled to get involved because of her love for her friends and her fear of the haints. I think it’s a fun and interesting contrast.
Cullen: Tyler and I both love Bernice, too, and I don’t think this will be the only arc you’ll see that features her so prominently. It’s important to me that we spend time with other characters and see many different corners of “Harrow County”.
This arc puts reveals more witches at play in “Harrow County”, not just Lady Lovey and (potentially) Bernice, but also the mysterious Odessa and her opossum familiars. Do you care to hint at what these new witches bring to the series?
Cullen: During one of my many conversations with Tyler, I threw out this idea that there were many different levels of magic. There was this kind of ‘true’ reality-shaping magic like Emmy uses. But there was also a kind of hedge magic that ‘normal’ folks could use as well. There are many different kinds of hedge magicians in the world, and you’ll see more of them as the series progresses.
As for Odessa, she presents something much more complex in Emmy’s world. Without spoiling too much, keep your eyes peeled for her return… and the return of the pig foot eating railway hobo from issue #9!
And issue #12 indicates we’re not done with Kammi yet either. Hannah Christenson’s artwork and coloring is strikingly different from Tyler’s style, but it felt very appropriate for the story. What do you look for in your “Harrow County” artists?
Tyler: I always hope to find artists who are going to bring something new to the book. I want art that is earthy and human but carries a sense of the wonderful too. Our editor Daniel Chabon brought Hannah to our attention and we all got real excited right away. I really like her color choices and the expressiveness of her characters is top notch. And with Carla Speed McNeil (who drew issue #9) I’m such a big fan of her work that it was a no brainer. Just based on her book “Finder”, she’s a master at telling an emotional story set in a fantastic world. In fact, Carla will be coming back later and I’m pretty excited about it.
The next arc, “Family Tree”, begins later this month. It sounds like Kammi isn’t Emmy’s only unexpected family member…Continued below
Tyler: Haha! It’s a big world out there and there are lots of complex relationships… so ya never know.
Cullen: Just when Emmy thinks she’s getting the hang of her role in this magical world, a couple of jerks like Tyler and myself pull the rug out from under her feet!
“Family Tree” will have a rather special back-up story: a four-parter written by Tyler Crook with art by Matt Kindt (“Mind MGMT”) and Brian Hurtt (“The Sixth Gun”). Would you care to tease our readers?
Tyler: This story was something that came out of brainstorming with Cullen. I had some ideas about Kammi’s relationship with her butler and it didn’t look like we would be able to get it into the main story. And I loved the idea so much that I had to do it! And Brian and Matt had just finished a book called “Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon” and I thought their combined art looked super cool!
I can’t wait. Before I go, I have to let our readers know about the new soundtrack release. Harrow County Vol. 2, the soundtrack to the comic book, composed by Tyler Crook is now available for download.
“Harrow County – Volume 3: Snake Doctor” will be available in trade paperback from September 14, collecting issues #9–12.
And, as promised, here’s a quick preview of “Harrow County” #13 coming out next Wednesday.