Halloween may be just around the corner, but DC Comics is going to be bringing the scares all fall with their new Hill House Comics line launching next month. Under the stewardship of Joe Hill, Hill House will consist of five new limited series with intriguing horror-fantasy premises. Some of the Hill House creative teams consist of comics veterans (such as longtime collaborators Mike Carey and Peter Gross, who are making The Dollhouse Family) but others are totally new to comics. One of those is author Carmen Maria Machado, who is making her comics debut with The Low, Low Woods (illustrated by the artist Dani). Check out a preview of the first issue below.
Machado is best-known right now for her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, which is in development as an anthology show on FX. Her memoir In the Dream House is out in November. She tells EW that The Low, Low Woods came about because DC editors were fans of her work and approached her about jumping genres.
“I had this idea for this project in particular as a novel and I’d taken a lot of notes — mostly about world-building and visuals and things like that, but not really any plot,” Machado says. “So when I got an email from DC asking, ‘Do you have anything tucked away that could make a good comic?’ I said I actually do, I had this weird thing I want to try. I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to write it out as a novel, if ever. So it was cool to take it to DC and these amazing artists and see it come to life in that way.”
The premise of The Low, Low Woods is a heady brew. Per DC’s official plot description, the series takes place in the fictional “hollowed-out coal town” of Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania. “Two teenage girls wake up in a movie theater with hours missing from their lives…and when they ask questions, they quickly learn that no one around them is entirely what they seem,” the description reads. “Except, perhaps, for the Skinless Men in the deep woods, and the Deer Woman who appears by moonlight.”
The Low, Low Woods is rooted in Machado’s own experiences growing up in Pennsylvania and her interest in the town of Centralia, which is built on top of a coal mine that’s been on fire for 50 years.
“Now Centralia is nothing. The last people who lived there died or left in the last 10 years,” Machado says. “But since the story is set in the ‘90s, I’m imagining a fictional version of Centralia where there are still people there but other people have left. What does it mean to live in a town that’s dying? The girls are trying to be there for each other and their family, but are also imagining past that and what comes after, trying to survive to the end. This mystery of what happened to them in the theater kicks off the story and pulls them through this particular set of issues. But there are a lot of questions I have, such as what does it mean to become an adult in a space that is so troubled?”
There are a couple of reasons to set The Low, Low Woods in the ‘90s. The first is that horror simply seems to work better in a world without smartphones. One of the other Hill House comics, Hill’s own A Basketful of Heads, is set in the ‘80s. But just as the award-winning Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” achieved some of its power by situating a lesbian romance in the visual aesthetic of a time period before widespread gay acceptance, Machado tells EW she enjoyed writing about a queer romance in the past that is not complicated by external homophobia.
“I just like the idea of queer characters from the past being able to live their lives,” Machado says. “Whether you think of that as fantasy or not, it’s really interesting to me. I liked the idea of them being able to live their sweet, queer, ‘90s lives without actually having that anxiety. I mean they have a lot of problems in these six issues, there’s a lot going on, but homophobia is not one of them.”
The Low, Low Woods kicks off this December. Check out a preview above and below, and head to DC Comics’ site for a preview of other Hill House titles.