Does anyone remember this kid’s show?
Whenever I’m recommending Broodhollow to someone I always feel like I have to take a trip to Candle Cove first. A big part of the reason is because they share a creator: artist, writer, podcast host, animator and general Renaissance man Kris Straub. He’s best known for the comic Chainsawsuit – or maybe now for his roll as ‘K’thriss Drow’b’ on Penny Arcade’s DnD show, The C-Team. Or maybe for his chilling YouTube horror series Local 58. Seriously, there are about two-dozen very good reasons to follow Kris Straub. Hop to it.
Candle Cove, though, stands on its own.
For those that didn’t grow up completely on the internet, Candle Cove is a Creepypasta. Creepypasta itself is a portmanteau of creepy and ‘pasta’ – a term which here refers to a copy-pasted block of text, typically a story of some sort. Since this is the internet we’re talking about, ‘pasta’ are typically bullshit to some degree: they’re designed to be shared as widely as possible, anonymously among users, forever. Creepypasta work the same way, except that they’re first-person horror stories. They’re campfire tales that swirl around the internet forever, authorless, until the ambiguity of their creation lends the story some kind of credence.
If they sound like urban legends, that’s exactly what they are. Because it’s impossible to know who wrote them, and they’re usually first-person, the reader can never know if they’re true or not. A well-done ‘pasta makes for a seriously unsettling read. And when it comes to Creepypasta, the more disturbing the better.
But back to Candle Cove.
Candle Cove wasn’t the first Creepypasta – there’s some debate over what that is – but it stands out in the genre because it does have a credited author: Kris Straub, who until that point had largely been known for his webcomics. He released it in 2009 onto his horror website, Ichor Falls, and though at the time he didn’t indicate whether the story was true or not, it was reasonable to assume something he’d written himself.
It’s remarkable how little of a comfort this is once you start to read.
Creepypasta hinges on the illusion of familiarity. Nearly every story takes place in a town just like yours, in a house just like the one you grew up in. Candle Cove takes it a step further and weaponizes The Mandela Effect to convince the reader, through a series of anonymous forum posts, that perhaps they too unknowingly watched a seriously scary, forbidden tv program as youngsters. It turns your nostalgia against you: what kid didn’t accidentally turn the channel to the wrong thing, when they were too young to understand? And back when televisions had dials, there was really no knowing what might be lurking on a secret, dangerous channel. It could be anything at all – maybe even Candle Cove.
I’ve read the story a dozen times, and when I’m reading along with all the details – half-remembered by these mystery forum-members – I too can remember bits and snippets of Candle Cove, a children’s show that can’t exist because it was invented by Kris Straub. He twists the false memories of youth into something vile and dangerous – it’s the epitome of a mindfuck, and a hell of a Horror story.
I don’t know how, but I’ve seen Candle Cove. And not just because they adapted it for the first season of Channel Zero in 2016. Straub really gets under your skin – it’s a masterpiece of the form.
Of course, Candle Cove doesn’t start scary – Creepypasta never do – and that friendly approach is the medium’s greatest strength. Everything is safe and suspiciously familiar – until the exact moment it isn’t anymore.
That’s our segue into Broodhollow.
Like much of Kris Straub’s work, Broodhollow is a webcomic. It was first published on October 6th, 2012 and has been updated on and off ever since. The entire thing is available to read right now, for free online, as well as in a number of print collections. I recommend you start it immediately, to be caught up by Hallowe’en.
Go on, I won’t keep you (I also won’t ruin anything beyond the intro here).
Like a lot of Straub’s work, Broodhollow is couched in comedy. It’s about Wadsworth Zane, a broke encyclopedia salesman in the 1930’s who finds himself drawn to the mysterious town of Broodhollow after he receives notice that an unknown relative has died. Curious about the possibility of an inheritance, he hops a train to town in hopes of finding out what’s going on. Of course, he gets more than he bargained for.
Zane himself is bumbling and lovable, like a nicer and non-racist version of a Lovecraft protagonist. He’s doing his best out there, but stumbles into absolutely everything half-prepared and clueless. He and the rest of the townfolk are cartoony, cute and charming, and there’s a lot of humour in watching Zane stumble through life one awkward interaction at a time. He’s an underdog and an everyman.
Maybe too much of an everyman. Because for all its cute looks and snappy writing, Broodhollow is a successor to Candle Cove.
Both works rely on a carefully-curated atmosphere of nostalgia and an immediate familiarity. We know Zane, and to some extent we feel like we know Broodhollow itself: we’ve seen a thousand towns like it, some of us still live in towns like it. Where Candle Cove used internet forums and childhood cartoons, Broodhollow has Americana and a shared sense of genre convention. The reader has some sense of where this story is going because we’ve read a hundred like it – and at the last second, Broodhollow whiplashes in the other direction, sometimes snapping from comedy to Horror in the same scene.
Broodhollow, town and comic, is a steel trap, slowly ratcheting itself open until the moment it snaps shut. You’ll never guess when.
The work Straub does to make Broodhollow a likeable comedy is the same work he puts into Candle Cove as a set of fake forum entries. He’s a master of tone and place-setting, and like the best horror writers, knows how to make the uncanny feel organic. Broodhollow is genuinely funny and endearing, and that makes it all the more powerful when the switch finally flips and it becomes Horror again.
Zane never sees it coming, and neither will you.
It’s one of the best cute-scary comics I’ve ever read with some of the most engaging small-town mystery I’ve seen in ages. Straub is one of the genre’s most exciting, interesting creators. I can’t wait to see more.