"The Evil Tree" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Arcana Studio
Written by Erik Hendrix
Illustrated by Daniel Thollin
2012, 110 Pages
Graphic Novel released on December 12th, 2012
There is not a day that goes by that I don't praise whatever I deem holy that I live in a world with electricity. I went without power for a few days recently and it's an experience I hope to avoid in the future. No lights. No heat. No TV! Fortunately this only lasted about three days, so I didn't have to do anything drastic. This isn't the case in The Evil Tree from Arcana Studio. See, there's this cabin out in the woods where a series of horrific murders were committed when a family was snowed in for the winter. Years later, someone spruced the place up and sold it to an unknowing couple looking to start fresh. Of course, the cabin is cursed, so that becomes rather difficult.
Misha has been in a strange state of shock after the death of her parents. Her boyfriend Daren is trying to snap her out of this funk with a weekend getaway at their new cabin with some friends. If this sounds like the beginning of your average horror movie, you're right. Fortunately no one reads a mystical text or unlocks a strange door. The Evil Tree is more straightforward. There's a tree on the property...and it's evil..like really evil. Remember all those murders? They culminating with the matriarch of the family hanging herself out of grief, giving that tree all kinds of weird dark mojo.
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Things progress pretty quickly as the twentysomethings start encountering floating objects and strange noises. Misha is drawn into the tree itself and now her friends have to figure out how to put it to rest and save her. This is easier said than done when there's an axe-wielding ghost roaming the premises.
The Evil Tree starts off pretty generic, but it moves into some very dark territory when the full backstory is explored. The reason for the haunting is disturbing. It's not some psycho mom killing camp counselors or a crazy slasher. This is the kind of story that can hit right at home to everyone because we all have some sort of family. The idea of seeing them in danger is the last thing you want to imagine.
My only real issue with The Evil Tree comes with some of the characters. Author Erik Hendrix fortunately avoids writing the horror movie stereotypes and delivers a nice range of genuinely likable people. My problem comes in two forms. The first is the character of Even. I'm assuming this should be pronounced as "Evan" but that's now how it looks on the page. Every time his name was mentioned, I had to re-read the speech bubble to make sure I understood what was going on. As comics are lettered in all caps, it was unclear if they were referring to the character or the word "even." My other issue was Serg, the one Latino member of the group. He seems to take issue with this fact as any time anyone says something to him, his response is "It's because I'm brown, right?" He says it several times throughout the book. Once or twice, I can deal with. More than that and it's just irritating. It's an unnecessary attempt at racial humor that out of place in this comic.
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Artist Daniel Thollin has an interesting style that really grew on me throughout the book. His characters have odd shaped heads. It took me awhile to get used to it, but it works. When everyone gets to the cabin, the tree literally creeps in on them. There are some panels where you'll see just a small branch stretching towards them ever so slightly. Sometimes it looks like the characters are about to be grabbed or struck by the tree, but it's just how the panel is framed. It gives scenes a claustrophobic feel. The tree is definitely the scariest part of the book and for good reason, but the aforementioned ghost with the penchant for axes gives it a run for its money. Thollin draws him with no legs. Instead there's a billowing, murky darkness that comes out of his abdomen. It helps cement that unearthly look of the character.
The Evil Tree managed to avoid most basic horror movie tropes despite having all the fixings for them. Instead Hendrix delivers a chilling ghost story that will make you want to chop down all the trees in your yard.