Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and Neil Gaiman’s Hansel & Gretel, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti, are graphic novels that bring scary stories to life. Both books are Week Four’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers program selections, both of which tie into the week’s theme, “Irrationality.”
The Young Readers program will take place at 4:15 p.m. today in the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall Ballroom, where participants can create their own graphic novel.
Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said both Gaiman’s Hansel & Gretel and Carroll’s Through the Woods illustrate how irrational it is to be attracted to things we’re scared of in the first place.
“We’re prompting a conversation about why we’re so drawn to scary stories,” Ewalt said. “There’s a relationship between images and words — at times, the words play a secondary role. Using the horror genre is a fun way to examine the choices that are made with very specific reactions in mind.”
Carroll achieves these specific reactions by using her art to maintain a strained, restless narrative. She often cuts out finished artwork that she has made using ink, pencil or graphite, and Adobe Photoshop if they aren’t central to the “spine” of the story.
“I went to school for animation, where they really drive home the idea that you can’t afford to become too precious with your drawings if they’re not working,” Carroll said. “I think with this book, it was, in a large part, a learning experience — figuring out how to sustain the tension in a slightly longer work than usual, and even just how to manage telling scary stories within the confines of a print comic.”
Ewalt said young readers participating in today’s program will have a chance to learn from digital communications manager Leslie Mathis, who is a gifted artist outside of her duties within Chautauqua Institution.
“Matt asked if I would help put on the program relating to design and illustration,” Mathis said. “I’ve done illustration work before, and we’re going to talk about specific scary stories and what makes something look scary.”
Elements of design and illustration such as facial expressions, large eyes, movement, sharp lines are tools artists use to convey an emotion, Mathis said. Horror stories use these tools, in combination with words, to evoke a visceral response within a reader.
“You have to tell a story — eyes popping out of their head? It has an immediate impact. You know what your mood is supposed to be as a reader,” Mathis said. “You have to convey a point to someone that you want them to feel a certain way about something.”
Carroll’s work executes this idea in a frightening and incredible way, Ewalt said.
“What most impressed me were those moments where, clearly, Emily Carroll knew me so well. She knew what I would be expecting, where my eyes would be traveling in the page,” Ewalt said. “There is a kind of science to that as much as there is an art as well, and it takes an understanding of the kind of the kind of reaction you’ll have in a reader.”
Carroll said she uses color — red, most often — to make certain images stand out from the rest or to execute a dramatic moment.
“In [Through the Woods story] ‘His Face All Red,’ a panel suddenly expands and goes completely red to illustrate a gunshot,” Carroll said. “Often, I use a splash or change in color to illustrate noise, especially since I am pretty sparing when it comes to writing out sound effects themselves.”
The layout of pages and the flow of a story can also change how a reader interacts with the novel, she said. She hand-lettered the entire book, which took some time but allowed her to adapt to the mood she was pursuing on each page.
“Finding that harmony within the page as a whole — and then perhaps exploiting it by breaking the rhythm of the art — can affect the reader, and result in a visual tension that I feel is important for creepy stories.”
Mathis said after the initial book discussion, participants will choose their own scary fairy tale to illustrate. Major plot points will be divvied up, and young readers will have the chance to illustrate them. For the final project, each person’s contributions will come together.
“Graphic novels let you bend the rules, walk on the edge, explore ideas and concepts that aren’t necessarily mainstream,” Mathis said. “They’re a channel into a world of ideas that aren’t necessarily the norm.”