The Evil Tree
Written by Erik Hendrix
Art by Daniel Tholin
Colors by Anna Sällström
Review by Joey Braccino
Written by Arcana Studio’s VP of Publishing, Erik Hendrix, The Evil Tree is a self-contained cabin-in-the-woods ghost story in graphic novel form. It doesn’t rely on gore and gross-out as much as other horror stories on the stands right now, which grants it a certain old-school, camp-fire yarn charm. In many ways, the book is reminiscent of several other ghost-story-esque graphic novels released in recent years: Hope Larson’s Mercury by Hope Larson and Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost come to mind. Unlike those books, however, The Evil Tree lacks a certain metaphorical core. Larson and Brosgol use ghost stories to expose something about the characters or about the reader; Hendrix seems to be telling a ghost story just to… tell a ghost story. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but the final product is ultimately by-the-numbers—group of friends drives up to an isolated house out in the sticks, group of friends uncovers dark secret, group of friends is viciously attacked by poltergeists/leprechauns/redneck-torture-zombies, group of friends solves the puzzle (but not before a few deaths!).
There are some more specific details in the plot, but there aren’t enough that truly stand out as original or innovative to warrant discussion. There’s an evil tree, there are some poltergeists, there are some dead children, and there’s a malicious spirit with an axe. There are also some mildly racist remarks tossed around within the group of friends that are meant to be in jest, but I was still distracted enough by their use to find them offensive. There are also some cuss words thrown around when things get spooky, which begs the question as to what audience Hendrix and Company were hoping to write for. The story would be perfect for young, tween readers, while older readers will probably look to more weighty stories on the stands, so the presence of language and innuendo is surprising.
The character designs by Daniel Tholin also remind me of Hope Larson’s work on Mercury. The overall tone, however, is more reminiscent of (and this is going way back) Dave Gibbon’s work on the Tales from the Black Freighter section of Watchmen. The main antagonist’s facial expressions are eerily similar to the marooned sea captain, and they achieve the same unsettling effect on the reader. The elements of the grotesque scattered throughout—the tree, the flashbacks to the dark, secret story of the house—are visually stunning, and Sällström’s colors grant the book a different look than most other black-and-white horror comics on the stands.
If you’re looking for a more traditional ghost story reminiscent of those haunting yarns that we used to tell around the campfire in our Midnight societies, pick up The Evil Tree when it comes out next month. It’s simple, self-contained, and well-illustrated. I do wish that is was willing to do more with the horror story tropes that it features, especially because the set-up is so similar to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s post-modern horror film, The Cabin In The Woods. After seeing that film, it’s almost a let-down when a story like The Evil Tree is so incorrigibly steadfast to the classic constructs. Furthermore, The Evil Tree probably won’t do much for readers looking for the current, mainstream manifestations of horror (Torture porn and Monster mashes), but perhaps a literary romp similar to purer, classic ghost stories is just what you need to clear your palette of zombie entrails.