Horror has always had a comfortable home in the medium of the graphic novel. Works like Lock and Key and From Hell have proven that the comic world is just as adept at doling out chills as the latest Clive Barker or Stephen King novel. And with Harvest, writers Juilan Payne and Zoe Elkins serve up a folk-horror tale that succeeds in tapping into the darker side of rural life with a haunting and memorable fable.
In a small rural village in England we are introduced to Greta, a recent university graduate who has left the busy streets of London to return to her family home. Unemployed and struggling to make sense of the world, Greta battles against the temptation to drink her days away, a vice that had claimed the life of her Father five years earlier. While searching for her place in society, local bar owner Aggie offers her both solace and a job babysitting her young son Sam, as the darkness surrounding Greta draws ever closer.
To say much more would risk spoiling a story that deserves to be discovered first-hand. Suffice to say that nothing is as it seems, and Greta finds herself surrounded by a primal danger that threatens to rip her world apart.
Harvest is a terrific read. The plot zips along quickly, drawing characters who feel fully realised and full of potential. Greta makes for an interesting and complex protagonist, the scars of her past fully explored throughout the pages of the book making for a satisfying and at times surprising conclusion. The story unspools slowly until the writers show their hand around the midway point, with a central story reveal that catches the reader off guard while maintaining narrative and thematic sense.
The art-work by Julian Payne is terrific in its minimalism. Mostly presented in black and white, the art is crisp and clear and easy to warm to. As the story unfolds and the dream sequences and fantastical elements begin to become more apparent, there is a boldness to Payne’s style that create panels and images that linger long in the memory. At times I was reminded of the terrific work done by Tony Moore on the panels of The Walking Dead, and like that series it is commendable that all the characters look and feel believable: there are no heaving bosoms or six packs on show here as there would be in a Marvel or DC franchise. The characters of Harvest feel and look every bit as ordinary as you or I (unless Chris Evans is reading this, but that feels like a long-shot).
Panels are beautiful, evoking the feel and look of every small village you’ve ever visited; from the local pub, The Foresters Arms, brimming with character and warmth, to the beautiful vistas and empty fields that feel pregnant with the occasionally malignant malice of nature.
Evoking the same folk-horror dread as films such as The Witch, The Borderlands or The Hallows, Harvest is a tale filled with an unease from the first moment to the final, haunting panel. It is to the writer’s credit that it is able to stand out in the genre, creating a heavy mood and a story that touches on topics as diverse as depression, grief and scary-bastard children.
Dark, twisted and poignant, Harvest is a story that will get in your head and take root.
I would heartily recommend a visit to The Foresters Arms for a drink, but must advise that you leave before dark…
Harvest Book 1 & 2 are available now from Pyjama Cardinal Comics.
By Hugh McStay