Kris Straub’s Broodhollow: Luring Readers In With an Angleworm

I’ve said this before in other forums, but horror and comedy have a lot in common. You start off in an innocuous or, conversely, a bizarre place and then escalate the scenario until, right at the end, you deliver the twist: or the punchline.

Kris Straub has managed to do this, at least twice in a major way, for Broodhollow. I have been following this web comic for a while now ever since its start in 2012 and, I have to say, its level of storytelling pushes the envelope on what comics can actually portray. Unlike the other times I’ve talked about Broodhollow, I really don’t want to reveal any spoilers as suspense and reader anxiety, broken only a few times by laughter and warmth, are key to Straub’s work.

Here is what you need to know about the plot. Wadsworth Zane is a young encyclopedia salesman with a behaviour called The Pattern, something bordering on if not outright a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, trying to survive during the Great Depression. He gets a letter from his late great-uncle wanting him to claim his inheritance from the strange city of Broodhollow. Wadsworth encounters eccentrics, angry and suspicious citizens, strange creatures, and ghosts.

And it only gets weirder and more disturbing from there.

There is something light, airy, and innocent about the cartoon style in which Kris Straub draws the human denizens of Broodhollow and the daytime of the city itself. It is a nostalgia reminiscent of the old newspaper strips and Disney cartoons of the 1930s: a cheeriness slowly and terrifyingly subverted into warped and twisted Lovecraftian aesthetics of red and fear. Even the juxtaposition of cartoon drawings and serious dialogue, coupled with questionable memories and conflicts of dialogue and thought bubbles makes the reading experience truly jarring: in a way that truly works.

And now the second arc, Broodhollow Book Two: Angleworm, has recently come to a close. And I still don’t even know what to make of it. You can read Book One: Curious Little Thing on the Broodhollow website or purchase it and other sundry, evil things from Kris Straub’s Chainsaw Suit store. Book Two: Angleworm is only available online at the moment, but perhaps come December or so there might be a Kickstarter Campaign to make a book form possible: just as there had been for the first.

In the meantime, keep an eye out on the Broodhollow website for updates. In addition to creating comics, Kris Straub likes to create horror stories and they operate on the same principles of slowly creeping dread and “long game” punchlines as they do in his other works. For instance, he is the creator of Candle Cove.

But let me leave you with a pleasant thought for the season. While I won’t tell you what Book Two is about, I will say this. The thing you need to understand about angleworms is that they come from the soil, they feed off living and dead matter, and they are used as bait … to lure prey to a predator.

Or perhaps, in this case, an opening line bringing sleeping minds to nightmare fuel.

Oh and Kris Straub has announced that Book Three of Broodhollow will be coming out sometime in early 2015 running parallel to the Kickstarter for Book Two. It’s called A Game of Oubliette. Pleasant dreams everyone.

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