Comics Time: “His Face All Red”

“His Face All Red”
Emily Carroll, writer/artist
self-published on the web, October 2010
Read it at EmCarroll.com

I’ve said a lot of complimentary things about this comic in the months since it was first posted, but it occurred to me I never actually sat down and reviewed it. So the other night I loaded it up for re-reading with the express purpose of writing a review in mind. And despite having looked at it however many times since it went up on Halloween, I still found myself dreading, literally dreading, the final image. Familiarity bred fear. From the striking title to the matter-of-fact opening line to the final page turn, Emily Carroll’s “His Face All Red” is an engrossing, quietly terrifying horror comic. You could be forgiven for thinking it might not be, by the way. Carroll’s slick-sexy-cute illustration style is very popular on the Internet, the kind of stuff that gets endlessly reblogged and Tumblrd and LJd; it’s easy to picture her earning plaudits for doing realistically cute redesigns of Supergirl’s costume, or a killer suite of Scott Pilgrim or Harry Potter portraits, or a drawing of Mal Reynolds and The Tenth Doctor reenacting Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square,” or whatever. So yeah, I could stand to see it de-prettified in the future. But here she applies that readily appealing craft in ways above and beyond what she could have easily gotten away with doing. Her use of the web to control pacing is really masterful: She uses the long vertical scroll to create an almost hypnotic feeling of inevitable descent as we watch our narrator explain why and how he killed his brother, and try to figure out why and how someone who looks and acts just like him appeared the next day, acting like nothing had happened; she then breaks this flow in jarring fashion with a pair of pages that contain but a single indelible image, one after the other. All this against a pitch-black background, further enhancing the immersiveness of the story. And that final turn of the page! Really pitch-perfect cartooning and pitch-perfect horror pacing, showing us just enough to let us know that something truly terrible is before us. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found that in the weeks since I last saw it, my mind had added details to the image — they weren’t really present there, but the tone of utter shattering of reality’s norms conjured them nonetheless. Enormously effective and affecting work, as close to delivering a jump-scare as any comic I’ve read. Shudder.

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