Archive Binge: Broodhollow
I am placed in an unusual and awkward position with this month’s Archive Binge. My selections are usually a comic that I have never read before, so that I have a fresh perspective, or a webcomic that I am already a regular reader of, one in which my opinion will have more nuance and depth. This time I am confronted with a completely new webcomic, that I have never seen in any form, that by the midpoint of my readthrough converted me into a devoted fan.
Typically my reviews focus more on story than art style, as the latter is more obviously subjective, but in the case of Broodhollow the two are inextricably linked. For the vast majority of the time, the comic’s rather twee character design and sepia toned nostalgia give the relatively dark subject material a soft edge. This plays along well with the Great Depression period setting and the buoyant sense of humour that characterises the majority of Broodhollow. When the second, nightmarish realist, art style is introduced during moments of peak fear the usual design contrasts with it harshly creating an even more visceral reaction from the reader.
Returning to the story itself, Broodhollow is set in an isolated and strangely prosperous town during the Great Recession. It follows Wadsworth Zane, a down-on-his-luck door to door encyclopaedia salesman who inherits property within the mysterious town of Broodhollow when a distant relative passes away. Wadsworth’s mental illness is established early in the story, which immediately provides the reader with cause to suspect his interpretations of events. When the genuinely supernatural occurs, it also grants everyone around him the excuse to ignore his warnings.
The story toys with the idea of his obsessive compulsive disorder frequently, approaching it from different angles while still maintaining a realistic understanding of how his search for patterns is disruptive to his wellbeing. There is an implication that he is in fact seeing past the masks of normalcy that keep others blind to true events, there are hints that his unique worldview is the only thing that is keeping him alive and there are very clear indications that in his life prior to arrival in Broodhollow this obsession drove him to make terrible decisions out of fear of what could happen if he failed to obey the pattern.
In itself this layer of deniability would have made a horror story fascinating, but when the second element of the plot is introduced and proven to be more than just a figment of Wadsworth’s imagination Broodhollow begins to really shine. Memory, and the loss of that memory when confronted with the supernatural forces that surround the town of Broodhollow, are central themes in the plot. Everyone in Broodhollow forgets things that they shouldn’t, to the degree that the plot often involves the characters re-treading their own footsteps, trying to discover secrets that they already knew, and which the astute reader is already aware of.
I will readily admit that this particular comic is the perfect storm of historical drama, sly humour, psychological drama and supernatural horror to tickle my fancy, but what is being done with the plot and art should be a landmark for all future creators, within the genre and without it. A devoted reader can get through all of Broodhollow in a single sitting and it is well worth the effort.