Cullen Bunn (words), Tyler Crook (art & letters), Owen Gieni (“Tales of Harrow County” art for issues 1-4), Tyler Crook (“Tales of Harrow County” art for issue 5)
Note: This review may contain spoilers and is based on advanced review copies from Dark Horse.
I recently added Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun, Deadpool Kills Deadpool) and Tyler Crook’s (B.P.R.D Hell on Earth, Bad Blood) Harrow County to my ever-growing list of witch comics due its rich mythology, intriguing female lead, and Southern Gothic atmosphere.
Harrow County centers on eighteen-year-old Emmy and the townsfolk of her rural residence Harrow County. Emmy lives on a farm with her father, Isaac. Isaac has recently had a spell of bad luck with his heifers birthing deformed calves who die quickly. One morning, Emmy heals a sickly newborn calf. This sets in motion a series of events that quickly confirm that Emmy is in fact a witch.
And not just any witch, but the reincarnation or creation (it’s unclear right now) of Hester Beck, a witch who the locals hanged and burned eighteen years prior. As she was burning, she promised to return and seek vengeance. While Emmy can feel the wrath of Hester, she resists the impulse and continues to attempt to live a “normal life.” However, this proves difficult as the locals begin to seek her assistance with local ills, issues, and “haints.”
In case you aren’t familiar, haints is an American Southern colloquialism for ghosts and/or haunts (as a noun or a verb). But the series is quick to establish its own mythology, because in Harrow County, haints are a variety of seemingly demonic creatures, at least in appearance. Their behavior, however, often seems less demonic and more survivalist. They lurk in the “hollows,” “forgotten places,” or places where “undesirables” are buried.
Emmy is immediately compelling; she shows little fear around the haints and realizes her own powers. Instead, she perceives the haints as “orphans” since Hester brought them to life and then was murdered. Emmy takes on caring for and naming them. One of the particularly creepy examples of this is Emmy’s relationship to the skin of a boy. Yes, that’s right, skin. After finding it in the first issue, Emmy keeps the skin almost like a pet. The body that the skin belongs to lurks nearby, protecting Emmy and serving as her eyes and ears when danger is near.
This same quality is also what enables Emmy to frequently assert her own agency. When she learns that she is a creation of Hester, she resists Hester’s negative influence to become her “own woman.” She also refuses to destroy the local haints despite prodding from the townsfolk and refuses to use her powers to assist the petty requests of certain Harrow County locals.
The lines and colors by Tyler Crook captures the atmosphere of mid-20th century rural South, while the colors do a great job of capturing the mood; darkening with uncertainty and lightening as Emmy achieves moments of clarity.
Additionally, each issue includes “Tales of Harrow County” flashbacks in the form of one to two page stories drawn and colored by Owen Gieni (with the exception of Issue #5 which is drawn by Tyler Crook and colored by Ma’at Crook) that provide further background and mythology for the series.
Like many other witch comics currently out there, Harrow County explores themes of family, female power, and small town life with the forest as an ever-looming motif. But the element of the rural American South adds a unique element that Bunn’s own roots (he’s from North Carolina) lends a credence to.
As a resident of the American South and a fan of witch mythology, I can’t help but be intrigued, and fortunately, the storytelling and art sustains that intrigue.