HARROW COUNTY, the series headed by Cullen Bunn’s scripts and Tyler Crook’s paintings, is ending. And though there are just four issues remaining in the final arc (including issue #29, which came out on March 21st), now is the perfect time to start reading. Still not convinced? I hope you will be by the time you make it through my list of 10 reasons to read the comic:

#1. There’s a good series recap in HARROW COUNTY #25.

One of the best things about HARROW COUNTY is what makes it difficult to start if you’re new to the series — the plot. HARROW COUNTY is 29 issues long so far, and each of these issues builds on the last. Although I would recommend going back and starting at HARROW COUNTY #1, there is another option if you’re strapped for cash (or time). Issue #25 recaps some of the major points of the series — and the rest of the arc recovers all you need to know going into Issue #29.

From the opening pages of HARROW COUNTY #25, Emmy takes stock of her situation with her friend Bernice. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Again, should you read the whole series? Certainly. But if you can’t manage that right now, starting at HARROW COUNTY #25 will do you right.

#2. Tyler Crook’s watercolors. This reason stands on its own.

Even if you’re not a fan of the story, you can at least appreciate the work that goes into each issue of HARROW COUNTY. With the exception of just a few issues, Tyler Crook hand painted — in watercolor — each panel of each issue. Therefore, the lines are softer than typical comic book art. Less saturation in the colors means the tone set by the warm and cool palette is gentle and calm until Crook throws in a splash of hell-fire or buckets of blood, red, shocking, and unnatural. The series is a masterwork in contrasts made to establish shocking moments in the plot.

Tyler Crook has a way with lighting. Emmy switches from fearful to furious in the dark of the woods. From Issue #3. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

And so what do you get? With this living medium, shadows in dark corners come alive with shapes and swirls. Cheeks flushed red with anger blend naturally into each and every face. Wide vistas of cornfields bend and sway in the breeze. There’s an inherent animation at play that captures the energy and motion of even the dustiest floorboards of Harrow County. Floorboards that might be just floorboards… unless they try to eat you (see HARROW COUNTY #12).

#3. The Horror is subtle and smart — well-suited to the comic medium.

Because that’s the thing about HARROW COUNTY that makes it horrifying — the unexpected. Whereas horror can span the gamut from the grotesque to the psychological, HARROW COUNTY stays grounded in the atmosphere. Its monsters — known as haints — hide in the forest and barn rafters, lurking out of sight until they reckon they want to be seen. But not all of Harrow County’s monsters crawl on all-fours. Some walk on two feet, greet you with a nod and a smile and take you out for a constitutional.

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Those are the moments to fear. When the face behind the smile sees you nothing more as a tool for their own desires.

#4. The Family is downright evil and creepy — and that’s fun to watch.

And that’s where we meet The Family. Emmy, the series protagonist, is introduced as a witch — the vile Hester Beck reborn. But as the series progresses, you learn that she’s not alone. Emmy comes from a line of ageless beings known as The Family, members of whom control various corners of creation prone to act with ruthless intent. Chief among them is Levi, a psychopomp tasked with ferrying souls to the afterlife. Or Odessa, who has mastery over the larger-than-life flora and fauna of the South. Both tend to hide their machinations behind gentle manners and Cheshire grins.

The Family makes their intentions clear in HARROW COUNTY #16. Emmy is not inclined to agree. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

When I encountered them all in HARROW COUNTY #13 to #16, I was impressed and surprised by Bunn’s creation. It let me get a peek at a world older and less catering to mankind than I figured.

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#5. Emmy, the protagonist, shows power can be compassion.

We know that Emmy is Hester Beck reborn, so it’s only natural she would inherit the witch’s powers of shaping matter to her will and fancy. The series leaves it as an open question if Emmy will ever fully tap into those powers to achieve her goals.

But in almost every case, we see Emmy’s strength manifest not in her supernatural abilities, but in her restraint from using her power. We see it in her compassion and refusal to call something — or someone — evil without giving them a fair shake first. And that’s what makes her a compelling character – her love and grace, rather than superhuman abilities. This makes her an especially good spin on the Strong Female Protagonist trope.

Emmy takes in the skin of the Skinless Boy in HARROW COUNTY #2. Notice how she folds him without any sign of panic. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

#6. The voices and accents (of the South) sound real (to me).

If you ever wanted to visit the South but were afraid of the heat, the people — or even haints —  of this book bring you there. A Southerner himself (born in North Carolina), one thing Bunn does uncannily well is capture the accents’ and conversation cadence to a T. Southern accents are generally used to make someone sound stupid or uneducated — but Bunn casts the accents as another part of characterization.

Emmy chides her Pa in HARROW COUNTY #5. The diction and syntax are typical of folk from certain parts of the South. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

As such, each character — from major to minor — sounds unique. Capturing unique voices in comics is hard — and they say genius is making something hard look easy. If you want a textbook example of how to do so, look no further than HARROW COUNTY.

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#7. The Haints are many and varied.

When you think of cryptids —fantastical creatures of conspiracy theorists — you may think of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. If you want to have your mind expanded, HARROW COUNTY offers a potent remedy.

You’ve got hobgoblins, flaming ghouls, sludge monsters, human-sized salamanders, and even a skinless boy. Malevolent cottonmouth pit vipers and dragon flies — “witch doctors,” in the local parlance — show up, too. But besides monsters I’ve never imagined possible, Bunn makes them human. He gives them personalities and speech patterns — along with Emmy giving them names — that make them more than props to be slaughtered. Rather, it’s a challenge for us to understand them and try and figure out the thinking behind their mischief. Maybe they’re not as evil as their appearance would have us think.

Emmy marches with the haints on the cover of  HARROW COUNTY #8. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

#8. The themes are poignant and tied to the setting.

If you haven’t picked up on it already, a great deal of the troubles in HARROW COUNTY come from a refusal to listen and understand. There are townsfolk who assume haints are bad because of the way they look. There’s the eldritch family who see humans as tools. And caught in the middle of it all is Emmy, trying to cut through the cow pies and get people to look at what makes them more kin than foe.

Does that sound like a real problem in the world? Maybe the actual southern United States? Cullen Bunn does not make the series a heavy-handed look at racism, prejudice, and all manner of bigotry in the South. But for those of us from the South (like me), you can’t miss it when you see it. It’s still a problem, too, and when I see Emmy, I see the hope of the younger generations I knew living there. When I root for her, I root for my hometown.

#9. Gore and blood serve a purpose — other than disgust.

Stephen King once said, “Naturally, I’ll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try to horrify you, and if I can’t make it there, I’ll try to gross you out.” HARROW COUNTY is not immune to the last promise of that horror writer. Indeed, there are a number of gross-out moments — how Family members get stronger comes to mind. But when there is violence or gore, it is well-used and just as shocking to the characters as it is to the audience.

Luke, an out-of-towner, gets into some trouble with the Abandoned… and some hobgoblins. Notice how obvious the blood appears in HARROW COUNTY #20. Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

One especially useful device is blood. When blood shows up in HARROW COUNTY, it doesn’t dissolve into the background, as I’ve seen some comics do. Instead, it’s bright, saturated, and sticky. Tyler Crook writes that he uses colored-pencil to get the effect, and it sure does work.

So be warned. And don’t eat a full meal before reading this series.

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#10. The upcoming showdown has been brewing for a long time.

In HARROW COUNTY #1, Hester Beck, the witch of Harrow County, made a promise to the folks that killed her. It came from her lips, even as her flesh was rending on the tree on which they hanged her:

Hester Beck burns in HARROW COUNTY #1. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

And now, for this final arc, she is back. Emmy may not be able to deal with her in reason, either.

In some ways, this is exciting. The audience has seen maybe 10% of Emmy’s true power and potential, and her deadliest confrontation yet (in HARROW COUNTY #28) couldn’t even eek out more. Will we see Emmy go supernova, or will she find a way to not suffer the vengeful witch in her own way? I’m holding my breath to find out, and if you catch up on the issues, I’m sure you will, too.

BONUS: The collected volumes give a peek at the creative process.

The way that I read most of HARROW COUNTY was through the collected volumes (the seventh, set to arrive on April 3rd). As a bonus, the back-matter of each issue includes various and sundry trivia and extra matter on the series. There are character sketches, step-by-step depictions of how Tyler Crook paints a panel, and even a side-by-side comparison of a script next to the layout thumbnails (in Volume 4) Crook and Bunn cooked up. All in all, it greatly increased my appreciation for the hard work that goes into a comic — and especially one like this.


Final Thoughts

HARROW COUNTY has easily become one of my favorite comic series of all time. I don’t believe that I am alone in feeling this way, either. I can’t recommend it enough, and I hope that you’ll join me in the adventure of the final arc. HARROW COUNTY #29 is on sale now. Don’t miss it — or any of the others in the series.

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