You'll Never Leave Harrow Alive- a review of Harrow County #1

Harrow County #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Drawn and Colored by Tyler Crook
Published by Dark Horse Comics

You don't find many comic books that can envelop you in their settings. Getting past stories that take place in the "big city," too often the time and the place of a comic feels more like an afterthought than an integral part of the comic. The setting is too often just where the characters are at any given time instead of being part of the essence of the comic; it's a type of shorthand that easily answers "where?" and ""when?" without answering or even asking "why?" With Tyler Crook's artwork in Harrow County #1, you can hear the sounds of an old farm, smell the manure that lingers in the air. You can feel the fresh air that turns a slight bit stale in the corners of the barn. Crook and writer Cullen Bunn take great care in this first issue to set the scene for their readers, crafting a comic that's as much about where it is as it is about who's in it.

Crook has been an impressive artist, since his debut with 2011's Petrograd, through various Mignolaverse projects and even a few issues here and there of Bunn's The Sixth Gun. With the Mignolaverse pedigree, Crook was a fantastic choice to fill in on B.P.R.D. after Guy Davis left that title as Crook has a similar loose approach to his characters as Davis developed. From B.P.R.D. and continuing through Harrow County #1, Crook's characters have a real presence on the page. The opening pages show the burning of a witch, hanging from a tree as a group of people watch. On the surface, the people are concerned, resolute, praying. But beneath that, they're all scared; scared of the power and wrath of the witch. That fear underlies the whole comic as Bunn and Crook move to a farm that seems far away from that witch burning until a young girl named Emmy miraculously heals a sickly newborn calf. 

Crook also colors the comics, using rich and earthy tones to add to the sense of time and place. Harrow County is bathed in natural and worn colors. The browns, greens and oranges that Crook uses put us in the setting, right alongside of the characters. The colors add so much to the setting as you can smell the leave in the trees and hear the wind rustle through them. Using watercolors, the effects that Crook achieve is similar to Matt Kindt’s coloring in Mind MGMT and Jose Villarubia’s work over Jeff Lemire in Sweet Tooth; the coloring sets the book apart from so much of the flat and listless work that’s being done. And the tones and hues provide the lifeblood of this comic. Crook’s linework is full of wonderful cartooning that builds the characters while his colors build those characters’ world.

No one uses language like Cullen Bunn does to place you into his character’s lives. The dialect of his people creates its own country and bluesy melodies in Harrow County #1. Bunn uses words not just to move the plot forward but to show you things you may not have seen before. “She had been one of them, though-- a neighbor and… at times… a friend… and them that killed her would’ve given her a proper burial and rites… but the rain washed the pages of the Bible clean.” On the opening page, you can already hear Bunn using language to set the scene. “... and them that killer her…” It’s not the Queen’s English, that’s for sure, but throwing the “them” in there is such a quiet yet powerful declaration of time and setting for this book. And he continues to throw these little verbal ticks into the story that influence your relation to this story the same way that Crook’s colors do.

Bunn is quickly proving himself to be one of the most unique storytellers in comics. Whether it’s a mainstream comics like Sinestro or Deadpool or a more personal project like The Remains or The Sixth Gun, Bunn can tell the kind of stories that you want to hear around a campfire. Harrow County #1 is one of those, an enrapturing story of rural supernatural fantasy. It would be too easy to say that Bunn and Crook are “world building” here but that would imply that they’re creating a new world. Instead, they’re settling into an old and fully realized world. The ways that they both set the scenes in this comic make it so easy for the reader to fall into it, to be a part of this world where witches could exist and small girls could start displaying incredible abilities.

Note: Tyler Crook has an excellent three part video on Youtube showing his art process for Harrow County #1. The first video is shown below but you should really click on that link and watch all three parts.