Despite being relatively new to the wonderful world of webcomics, Emily Carroll is a name that pops up with a frequency that seems to be steadily increasing with every month.
The Vancouver, BC local has only been doing comics “in earnest” (her words) since last May, but already she has been featured on The Comics Reporter, Robot 6, Scott McCloud’s Blog, Comics Alliance… I could legitimately keep going for some time, but instead I’ll finish by mentioning that Emily is also up for a Joe Shuster Award this year and she is currently collaborating with Eisner-nominated group The Anthology Project on their second volume.
Whoo…. That’s some condensed resume. And to think, the reason it took Emily so long to take the plunge into comics is because she “didn’t really think (she) was good enough to do them”.
“Then last May,” she says, “I decided I actually wanted to try doing it. I’m friends with a few people who do comics, and so I kind of gave it a shot as a sort of mini-project just to see if I could actually finish one. And the response I got from that encouraged me to make more. ”
Carroll, who studied classical animation at Sheridan College in Ontario, first gained widespread web-notoriety when her delightfully horrifying webcomic ‘His Face All Red‘ made the internet rounds around Halloween last year. If you haven’t read it yet, you should absolutely do so immediately.
Her knack for telling a creepy story speaks for itself. From her shrewd choices of imagery and language to the overall color tones and wispy, understated characters, Emily creates an atmosphere that successfully pulls the reader into her tacitly unsettling world.
“When I was a kid, I was always drawn to scary stories,” says Carroll. “I was particularly very influenced by the Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark books (written by Alvin Schwartz). The stories themselves weren’t necessarily that scary on their own, but the illustrations (done by Stephen Gammel) made them just terrifying. So those sorts of stories impacted me quite a bit, and my Dad also used to tell me these urban legends that probably weren’t entirely suitable for kids. The ones I liked the best were ‘the babysitter and the man upstairs’ stories; the ones that could happen to ordinary people, where it was something that ‘really did happen to a friend of a friend’.”
His Face All Red is a relatively short narrative that tells the story of a man whose envy drives him to do an unspeakable thing… and the sinister repercussions that he faces as a result.
Emily says that the idea for the story came from a late-night radio show in the States called Coast to Coast AM, which largely deals with UFO reports, paranormal events, and other generally strange occurrences.
“A few years ago,” she says, “there was this infamous story that was told on Coast to Coast AM that later grew into its own huge mythology. It was about a guy named Mel who called in to talk about a hole that he found on his property which he claimed was bottomless. He threw things down there, and he never heard them hit anything. He uncoiled rope down, but it never seemed to be far enough…
That concept of this bottomless hole stuck with me because I thought that was a very simple, scary concept, where the only way to know what was at the bottom would be to go down yourself. But then once you go down, how do you get back out? So that was a big inspiration, and I was also writing this story about brothers hunting a beast in the words that wasn’t really going anywhere. I put the two ideas together, and that was sort of the genesis behind the project.”
Among the other projects you will currently find scattered throughout Emily’s blog is an illustrated dream journal that she kept for the months of November and December of last year. Carroll, who has kept a written dream journal for years, decided to use four panel illustrations in an attempt to take a snapshot of some of the more predominant images and themes she found herself writing about.
“The dreams themselves are so complex and have so many details that I basically picked for each panel just a beat or an image that I remember reacting to the strongest. Dreams aren’t going to have a defined narrative, right? So I just picked out the elements I decided were the most significant.”
Emily has a collection of new dream journal comics that she has been working on over the past couple of months which she intends on posting soon. She also has a few words of advice to anyone aspiring to keep their own dream journal:
“Don’t edit yourself when you’re trying to recap what happens in your dreams. You can’t effectively convey all of the senses that occur to you in a dream, so don’t try to make sense of it when you write about it. Just write it all down, even though it doesn’t make any sense, so that you can come back to the individual elements and try and remember what impressions they may have had on you.”
‘Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter‘ is another comic you might find on Emily’s blog that has an interesting story behind it. Posted on Valentine’s Day this year, this short webcomic is somewhat unique from Carroll’s other work in that it doesn’t have a creepy or sinister undertone.
It tells the story of a shape-shifting goddess and the silver-haired mortal girl that catches her fancy, and has that special folklore-ish quality of feeling simultaneously foreign and familiar; a story that you already know before you read it, but still manages to keep you guessing.
“That was inspired by a project I had done a few years ago with my girlfriend, Kate Craig,” Emily explains. “We’d actually created two different civilizations just for fun, as kind of a world-building exercise. We each worked on our own civilization for about a month, without telling the other anything about them. At the end of the month we decided to work out what the first contact between our two worlds would be like. Out of that I started working on the mythology of that world I had created, which was based largely on Viking mythology. I decided to try and do a ’sweeter’ sort of comic than what I had done to date, so I wrote a romantic myth from that world and posted it to coincide with Valentine’s Day. It has a lot to do with ‘threes’, all throughout it.”
Although Anu-Anulan is thematically quite different from her other comics, her unique, eye-catching approach to illustration is consistent across the board. When I asked Emily about her artistic method, she had this to say:
“It’s really uncomplicated,” she says, laughing. “Generally a lot of my stuff is done on the computer. I use a tablet to sketch it into Photoshop, where I also ink, color it, and put in flats. One of the things I do to make it look a bit more natural is I have inkwashes that I have done on illustration board and then I scan them in and apply them to Photoshop as a layer of flats so that it gives them a texture. For the comics, I draw in pencil and ink on bristol with a nib pen so that it kind of has that jagged quality to it and bleeds a bit. Otherwise they’re colored the same as everything else on the computer.”
Carroll says that the large positive response she has received for her comics was a bit overwhelming, at first.
“I definitely wasn’t prepared for all the attention that things have received,” she says. “It’s fantastic, and that Shuster nomination is incredible. It’s been a little surreal because I’ve been drawing cartoons and things for ages, but I’ve only just recently started getting into comics. When I did Hare’s Bride or His Face All Red, it was like, ‘my friends will like this, I’ll put it online’ – then to get such a big response for them was really amazing.”
One of the places I randomly saw Emily Carroll’s name pop up was on none other than the videogame developer Rockstar’s official blog. This is perhaps unsurprising, given her admitted love for videogames and the Flickr site she has filled with illustrations as testament to that affection.
I challenged her to name some of her favourite videogame releases from the past year or two:
“Probably my favorite game last year was Red Dead Redemption. I’ve always been a fan of Westerns, and to have a game that was not only a Western but a really good Western was amazing. Even the DLC that they put out for it at Halloween was so awesome. Dragon Age, that series I love. I’m also a huge fan of the Uncharted series, I really loved Fallout: New Vegas… and still love, because I haven’t beat it yet. You can just wander for hours on end in that game – I had to stop myself from playing it too much.”
As we all wait anxiously to see what Emily Carroll will turn her sights towards next, she does have a couple of hints as to future projects.
“I’m working on a collection of minicomics for TCAF,” she says, “which will hopefully also be a webcomic I hope to put up in early June.”
She also has a comic in the works for The Anthology Project Vol. 2:
“It’s another fairy-tale sort of comic. It’s an original story playing on some familiar fairy tale themes, and it’s a bit more light-hearted and funnier, I guess, sort of, than some of my other comics (Spoiler: no one goes missing or dies). Also, it has no dialogue in it, which was kind of fun. The characters speak, but they speak in pictures.”
-Written by Kevin de Vlaming