Writer: Joe Ciano
Illustrator: Joshua Hixson
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A teenage boy enters the woods as a human and conducts a blood ritual out of vengeance. The young woman he once loved seeks answers for his death, but the woods also draws her to its enticing power.
Horrific consequences ensue.
Think of this horror story as Friday the 13th meets The Witch.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Quinn is angry, and he wants revenge.
After penning a love letter to Amber, his high school classmate, Amber's boyfriend Tyler beats up Quinn out of jealousy. Years of isolation and enduring bullies lead Quinn to search for power to fight back. And an ancient book leads him to the malevolent Black Woods, where power and vengeance come at a monstrous cost.
One night, Amber has had enough of Tyler's control over her. During their breakup, Quinn returns from the woods as a creature near unrecognizable -- and Amber knows exactly who he is. Quinn attacks Tyler, leaving him crippled. Consequently, Amber feels compelled to sojourn into the Black Woods. There, she finds the book containing all Quinn's secrets. Amber mistakenly believes the book in the wood will allow her to wield an intoxicating agency.
Two teenagers pursue power and revenge. Yet, ancient beings have concocted their own plan for the newest children of the woods.
Children of the Woods may be Joe Ciano's debut published comic project, but he already demonstrates a critical understanding of craft. The narrative dialogue does a great job offering emotional context furthering the emotional response readers will undergo as they simultaneously observe the illustrated narrative playing out on the page.
Joshua Hixson infects the pages with dark shadows and lighting, provoking terror through halfway concealing the characters and creatures beyond in sinister darkness. Hixson capitalizes on arousing fear through loose-lined often proposing ideas of what lies horrors lie beyond.
Roman Stevens turns feelings of terror into that of an unending ouroboros through a color palette morphing throughout the graphic novel. Stevens ascribes arresting specific hues to each character. These colors define their individuality before seeping out as the characters realize the limited extent of their autonomy.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou lettering tells a haunting story of its own; a story where twisting speech bubble tails wrap around branches to denote a faceless ghoul hidden within the woods and the typeface within the unknown speaker's dialogue boxes eerily resembles the thinning typeface composing the lettering inside the ancient creatures' speech bubbles.
This is a monster story at its core. Ciano's narrative vehicle utilizes a first-person voice to relate this monster story. Readers never meet this narrator, yet we come to know them through their observations and judgments of the characters inside the tale. The fourth-wall break works tremendously well, as readers can imagine themselves sitting around a campfire listening to someone telling the legend of the children of the woods.
Hixson has mastered the art of tangibly rendering horror through altering silhouette visibility. Thin lines and shading make up his compositions, the scratchboard look thrumming with a mystical, malicious quality
As the story progresses, the twilight colors of purple and blue signifying Amber merge into striking vermillion as she descends into obsession. Snake-like, scaly greens douse the woods around Quinn. Eventually, Quinn's forest-green pallette leaks into panels where Amber begins to be lured by the evil within the Black Woods.
Color takes on a heavyweight in showing who the characters are and who they become. Undoubtedly, the eye-catching illustrations and Otsmane-Elhaou's squelching SFX alone will entice readers to pick up this graphic novel.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warning: Children of the Woods is a horror comic and does not disappoint in providing enough horror imagery to stick its branches into your nightmares. Thus, readers should be aware that the comic contains depictions of gore, blood, terror, blood rituals, satanic iconoclasm, and physical abuse.
While the untethered narration works for the most part, there are lines that read somewhat clunkily. In some scenes, it felt the narrative dialogue boxes distracted from the intensity of the illustrations.
The gutter space between the panels and the page edges is thick and bright white. Perhaps it could be more of an issue with digital reading, but the whiteness felt almost too bright against the dark panels.
The motivations behind the "big bad" creatures could have been developed further, because as it stands, their story felt generally comprehensible but underwritten.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Good monster stories should make you scared. Great monster stories should make you question whether you are truly safe and whether you could also fall into temptations besetting the downfall of the main characters. Children of the Woods is a great monster story.
The physical monsters are frightening, looming creatures with sharpened claws and skin pulled so tightly over their malformed figures, vertebrae protrude from their elongated backs. The internal monsters -- quests for vengeance, control, power -- in the graphic novel rendevous with reality.
We as people fight against the dark impulses inherent in ourselves. We attempt to avoid a confluence of misfortunes through commanding our moral compass. This comic shows how easy it is to truncate our lives when we give in to darkness.
Children of the Woods is a tragic horror story where its readers will be compelled to ask themselves how separated they are from the monstrous impulses lying inside us, ready to emerge from the black forest of our subconscious.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
The Autumnal by Daniel Krause & Chris Shehan
The Nice House on the Lake by James Tynion IV & Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Proctor Valley Road by Grant Morrison, Alex Child & Naomi Franquiz
If you like the art:
The Plot by Michael Moreci, Tim Daniel & Joshua Hixson
Shanghai Red by Christoper Sebela & Joshua Hixson
Bunny Mask by Paul Tobin & Andrea Mutti
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Joe Ciano – Writer (@AmazingJCiano)
Ciano is the writer of Tales of Happenstance and makes his publishing debut with Children of the Woods.
He enjoys working in all genres of fantasy and exploring everything the medium has to offer.
Ciano hails from Long Island, New York.
Joshua Hixson – Illustrator (@joshixson)
Hixson is a freelance cartoonist and illustrator in the comic industry and for Kannibalen Records.
On the Rise: He is the artist and co-creator of the comics The Plot, Shanghai Red, and Children of the Woods.
He hails from New York.
Roman Stevens – Colorist (@RomanPStevens)
Stevens is an illustrator, specializing in traditional illustration and comic coloring. He has done illustrations for DC Comics, Dynamite Comics, and Dark Horse Comics.
He graduated in 2017 from Falmouth University with a First Class 'Bachelor of Arts' Degree in Illustration.
Outlander: He lives in London, England.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou – Letterer (@HassanOE)
Award Winner: He is the editor of the PanelxPanel digital magazine, which has won an Eisner Award. He also hosts the YouTube channel series, Strip Panel Naked and is passionate about sharing lettering techniques and information.
Prolific: Hassan has worked on over twenty comic series, despite only entering the comic industry in 2016.
Outlander: Hassan hails from England and occasionally creates films.
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Children of the Woods characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Joe Ciano and Josh Hixson or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED