Our Book of the Month this September is Emily Carroll's A Guest In The House, a gripping, slow-burning and macabre graphic novel, brimming with the tensions of domestic, psychological and supernatural horrors. We join the story as Abby is settling into the mundanity of her married life when she begins to uncover a ghostly mystery with ties to her new husband's past. Ambitious, bold and beautiful, A Guest In The House is the work of a master of the form at the height of their powers. We sat down with Emily to discuss her process, influences and more.
How do you approach writing a comic - does it begin as a script, a piece of prose to be adapted, or a loose storyboard…?
It varies from comic to comic, but usually I have a loose script that evolves with rough thumbnails and notes, but no writing is set in stone once I begin to draw. Certain sequences come to me before others, or may be more enticing to draw before others, so I'll work on sorting them out and seeing what they'll look like even though they may not be in chronological order for the story. I prefer to go into final art as quickly as possible, so I can see how the comic is going to look, which will influence how I write and plot it out.
What’s your drawing setup like - do you use pen and ink or have you gone digital?
For my last book, Through the Woods, I used pen and ink, but in the time between making that one and A Guest in the House, I've gone full digital. I use a (very battered) tablet and stylus and draw in either Photoshop or Clip Studio. That said, I do have a library of ink washes, smears, graphite texture, etc, that I've scanned in myself in case I want a more organic looking feel for any given page.
There’s a beautifully loose, clear style to your linework, are any particular visual influences at play from the worlds of comics or beyond?
It's a little difficult to pin down at this point, since it's all just stuck in my brain over years and years of drawing and absorbing influences. Right now in my current work I'm very inspired by Kentaro Miura, but for A Guest in the House it was probably more related to black and white films, specifically Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter. And in the past, it's been children's books that had a big influence on me, which also inspired some of the brightly coloured fantasy sequences in this book.
The ghostly encounters in Guest In The House are presented in quite a matter of fact way, with characters quickly becoming used to such appearances. Have you had supernatural experiences of your own?
Haha, no, I have not. The previous owners of my house said there was an old woman who haunts the bedroom, but so far we're all clear. Personally I don't believe in ghosts or anything supernatural. Usually saying so elicits a good ghost story from whoever I'm speaking with though, and I do really like hearing people's ghost stories, especially when they're told in the matter of fact way you mention, so that doubtlessly influenced how I presented the ghosts in the book.
The level of detail in the splash pages is absolutely gorgeous - roughly how long does a graphic novel of this size take you to complete?
It's difficult to pin down on something like this, which has a different rhythm to it than if I were just illustrating another writer's work and there was a tight delivery schedule. The idea for it began many years ago, but for the actual artwork, I'd say a few-ish years? This was also drawn during the pandemic, so time becomes a little hazy for me in there. It's hard to discern the beginning and end points for a comic sometimes.
Guest In The House feels like a melting pot of influences from cinema, literature and comics that could only exist in its current form. Do you have any interest in your work being adapted into another medium?
Yes, of course! I've actually had the honour of one adaptation so far, for Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities, which was inspired by one of my webcomics. Fingers crossed there's more film adaptations in the future too. And I'd personally love to write a horror novel at some point, but comics are just so much easier for me to feel my way through.
Psychological, slow-burn horror comics are a rare proposition - did you have any concerns about creating one?
It didn't occur to me to have a concern about it, I was honestly more worried about creating a full length book when most of my work is short stories. The longest comic I'd done before this was about 75 pages, and this one is roughly 250, so it was daunting. Fortunately I had the story in mind from the get go, and it was a case of just sorting out how it would all shake loose once I put it in order (which did take some time and agony, admittedly).
Are there any other ghost stories or graphic novels you'd like to recommend to our readers?
As far as horror comics go, Graveneye by Sloane Leong and Anna Bowles is an incredibly beautiful book about murder in a haunted house, Disorder by Erika Price is a exquisitely torturous body horror series, and Shades of Fear is a great anthology of horror comics that just came out this past year.
Many thanks to Emily for speaking with us and you can purchase A Guest In The House here on the website.