Lovely little town...
Wadsworth Zane: I'm an encyclopedia man, Dr Angstrom. A man of science, not superstition. I've found behaviors that improve circumstances in my life! Like a scientist would! Broodhollow
Dr. Angstrom: And these behaviors protect you from ghosts.
is a webcomic by Kris Straub, creator of Starslip
, Candle Cove
, and Chainsawsuit
Wadsworth Zane, an Encyclopedia Atlantica salesman in the '30s who suffers from anxiety and compulsive behaviors, receives a letter telling him a very distant relative died. He stands to inherit some much needed money
, but must make a trip to the small town of Broodhollow to learn more about his inheritance.
While there he meets a few citizens of Broodhollow and begins to believe that there is something sinister at work in this town. Important characters include:Dr. Klaus Angstrom
: A psychoanalyst who has befriended Wadsworth and is trying to help him deal with his anxiety issues.
Iris Bellweather: A teenager assisting at her father's law firm. She is familiar with Wadsworth's case and is friendly and helpful to him.
Boys: A local 'gang' of similarly sized men
who work at the Bottlefly Mill.
Rutherford Planchett: An obstructive businessman who was waiting to buy Wadsworth's inheritance. He is very abrasive to Wadsworth and believes he is a con-man.
Mayor Ogden Osgood: A pleasant old man who takes an interest in Wadsworth
This series provides examples of:
- Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: Zane goes full out with his Super OCD by nailing everything in his room shut when he believes he's going to be attacked by a ghost. It doesn't work.
- Action Girl: Iris gets a chance to be one. Briefly and awesomely.
- Adorkable: Wadsworth's crippling neuroses are so gosh darned endearing.
- Agent Scully: Angstrom steadfastly refuses to believe Zane or Iris about the supernatural occurrences around town, trying to explain everything as either some kind of delusion, or as perfectly normal occurrences amplified by fear and panic.
- All Just a Dream: The sequence at the beginning of the second chapter, where we suddenly see Mayor Osgood's face be replaced by a massive gaping hole. Fortunately, it just seems to be a nightmare, until he starts seeing it when he's awake.
- It's implied from his psychotherapy sessions that these dreams are Zane's subconscious trying to remind him about all the things he's forgotten as a result of the Extra-Strength Masquerade.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Wadsworth definitely has OCD, but that may or may not be all that's going wrong in his head.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Society of the Skull and Shovels. Subverted in that they wind up being a relatively mundane secret society, made up of various businessmen and community leaders who talk shop, drink and play cards. Mostly.
- The Broodhollow Ladies' Auxiliary is a Distaff Counterpart to the Skull and Shovels, being concerned primarily with organizing the town's many holidays. And if Mrs. Isquith's conversation with Iris is anything to go by, they all know about, and actively resist, the town's supernatural effects on memory.
- Anyone Can Die: Poor Maris.
- Bat Scare: When the townsfolk begin the ritual for Ouster Eve, it scatters some bats that were roosting in the church tower's belfry. And then they start getting bigger...
- Big Damn Heroes: Mercy dive-bombing the skeleton, followed shortly afterwards by Iris bursting in and beating the everloving shit out of it with a frying pan. That strip's title? "AND STAY OUT".
- A Boy and His X: A young man and his adorable bat!
- Berserk Button: Do not insult Iris in front of Zane.
- Brotherhood of Funny Hats: Well, the Society of the Skull and Shovels seems fairly benign thus far, except for that awful, awful chanting.
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Zane can't, at least when compared to the Bottlefly Boys. Which is how he winds up tripping and injuring himself, resulting in him going to the hospital.
- Closed Circle: Circumstances continue to keep Wadsworth in Broodhollow for just one more day. And then another, and another. After the first chapter, Zane decides to run the Antique store most likely because he forgot why he wanted to leave in the first place.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: People should really be paying more attention to Zane's stories... although in this case, it's more than justified that they aren't.
- Cobweb Jungle: Zane's Antiques was abandoned for about a year after Wadsworth's uncle's death and became this.
- Comedic Sociopathy: Planchett is hilariously mean to Wadsworth, and it seems that there is little reason for him to treat Wadsworth so badly.
- On the other hand, Planchett seems to honestly believe Wadsworth is a con man looking to make a quick hundred dollars selling property that isn't actually his.
- Cool Old Guy and Cool Old Lady: Mayor Osgood appears to be this, quieting down Planchett and inviting Wadsworth to be a guest of honor at one of the town's many holidays. Later, Ms. Isquith of the Broodhollow Ladies Auxiliary is very friendly and supportive of Iris— and is more than capable of taking Planchett down a peg.
- Creepy Basement: Where Zane is taken when he's kidnapped by the ghost of Harker.
- Creepy Doll: Pay careful attention to some of the panels showing Wadsworth's uncle's shop.
- Dark Is Evil: Nearly every bad thing that has happened in the comic has happened at night, or in a place with no light.
- Deuteragonist: Iris and Zane share the spotlight, each unraveling their own larger mysteries.
- Distressed Dude: Wadsworth, at the hands of Harker.
- Drunk on Milk: Because Prohibition is in full effect, people have resorted to drinking a beverage fermented from a local tree called Switchwood. It gets by the Prohibition laws because it's not alcoholic, even though it still causes inebriation.
- Easter Egg: See this page's entry of Shaggy Dog Story.
- Empathy Pet: Mercy, for Zane.
- Enclosed Space: Inverted. Zane intentionally closes every door, window and drawer in every room he stays in out of superstition. When he believes he's being chased by a ghost, he goes so far as to nail every door, window and drawer shut.
- Environmental Symbolism: Straub uses this to great effect. Colors have definite shifts whenever something potentially supernatural is happening, usually making the colors darker and more red-tinged.
- Evil Is Not Well Lit: Bad things always seem to happen to Wadsworth at night...
- Framing Device: The comic starts with Wadsworth on Dr Angstrom's couch, talking about how he came to Broodhollow. As of now, the events of the comic have caught up to the framing device. Kris mentioned that he was using this trope to "reassure" readers that Zane would be alive and well following the events of the comic. Now that we are past the framing device, anything could happen.
- Frying Pan of Doom: Iris has one.
- Funetik Aksent: Averted with Dr. Angstrom. He apologizes for his (presumably thick) accent on his introduction, but it's left to the reader's imagination.
- Glad I Thought of It: Angstrom doesn't think much of Freud, but his concept of the "infrapsyche" is pretty much identical to Freud's ideas about the unconscious mind.
- G-Rated Drug: Switchwater, the town's substitute for alcohol. Justified in that the comic takes place during the Prohibition Era in America.
- The Great Depression: The setting, which provides Wadsworth with a reason to stay in Broodhollow and run the shop he inherited.
- Heroic Build: The Bottlefly Boys are all hyper-masculine, overly muscled mill workers that dwarf Wadsworth and make him feel weak by their mere presence. Thankfully, they're also fairly good natured, and step in to help whenever danger arises.
- Herr Doktor: Angstrom is Austrian, though not much is made of it.
- History Repeats: Once Zane becomes aware of the fact that his memories have been altered, he plans to use shock and horror to restore his memory. However, he comes across an old journal that shows he already tried it once before... and it didn't work.
- Particularly horrifying because his attempt to restore his memories may be tied to Maris' death.
- Jerk Ass: Planchett appears to be this, lording his influence over others while constantly deriding Wadsworth simply because Wadsworth happened to come to Broodhollow just in time to keep his inheritance. He has also been the main antagonist so far, obstructing Wadsworth from collecting his inheritance and leaving again.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Iris and the townsfolk, at first, have forgotten that her father died a while back... and, at the end of Book One, Zane seems to have forgotten his confrontation with Harker.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: It's been noticed that the light shining from the glowing features of the ghosts/hallucinations bleed over into previous and subsequent panels. Straub has acknowledged that this is not a mistake.
- Madness Mantra: "I am just going to close it for you. It's better closed. It needs to be closed. I need to close it." Wadsworth has some issues with things left half open.
- Masquerade: Wadsworth believes that Broodhollow has this in effect because no one else notices the strange things happening.
- Extra-Strength Masquerade: Broodhollowans seem incapable of remembering certain events, no matter how traumatic and conspicuous. This even includes Zane.
- Mayor Pain: It's not clear what exactly Mayor Osgood's deal is, but something about him is ever so slightly off. He could be an innocent figurehead, but he seems involved in a few too many things to be a coincidence.
- Mind Screw: Both for the reader and for Wadsworth. Neither is completely sure what is real and what is in Zane's head.
- Nervous Wreck: Wadsworth. Always.
- Nightmare Face: The collapsed-in faces from Zane's nightmares definitely count.
- Nightmare Sequence: There is one near the beginning that helps set the tone.
- There's another one at the beginning of Chapter Two.
- Organ Theft: The reason the ghost of Harker was kidnapping and killing people- he hoped to reconstruct his body, piece by piece.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Either they are nightmarish hallucinations that plague Wadsworth for no apparent reason or they are figments of Wadsworth's imagination.
- Police Are Useless: Partly a result of the influence of the Brotherhood of Funny Hats, but also a result of the Extra-Strength Masquerade that prevents people from remembering all of the supernatural phenomena they come across.
- Psychological Horror: "There's nothing to be afraid of" does not logically follow from "It's all in your head".
- Rated M for Manly: What happens whenever the Bottlefly Boys enter the comic.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Mercy the bat.
- Room Full of Crazy: Wadsworth, nooooooo!
- Sanity Strengthening: Dr. Angstrom is able to offer Wadsworth reassurance and good advice, and does a lot to help him overcome his neuroses. Sadly, Zane stops trusting him because of his skepticism, and then things get worse...
- Shaggy Dog Story: An enterprising reader experimented on the website's background, and found it was a newspaper article written by the author◊ describing the main character's apparent death. It counts as this, because the ending of the article abruptly becomes the lyrics to the opening theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
- Show Within a Show: The "Cadavre" comics, which feature a French existentialist skeleton and his friend, Mort. This character also appears in Zane's dreams to give him messages.
- The Shrink: Dr. Angstrom appears to be a cross between numbers 2 and 3. He renames established psychology terms so he can claim to have discovered them, but cares about Wadsworth's problems and seems to provide good advice.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Downplayed with Angstrom. He's not incompetent by any means, but he has a reoccurring obsession with obtaining fame by... basically just taking existing psychological concepts and renaming them.
- Super OCD: Wadsworth needs things to be closed.
- Theme Naming: The Bottlefly Boys are named Maris, Morris and Maurice, which are pronounced almost identically.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: It is unknown currently in the comic whether only Zane is experiencing this or if the ghosts he sees are real. There are clues that point in both directions. Panels with a red-tinted background seem to be from Zane's unreliable perspective. For instance, on Ouster Eve only the red panels depict monstrous bats, and the others show them as normal sizes and shapes. And no one else saw them but Zane.
- However, Zane gets some independent confirmation from Iris, when she beats the evil out of Harker. She finds Zane after following a ghost even! Sadly, this doesn't last very long.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Unlike its (in-universe, even) sister town, Ichor Falls, Broodhollow is friendly and welcoming. And ever so slightly off. For example, the town's hotel is called Hotel Umbra, residents greet each other by saying "Hello Hello Hello!" and the town celebrates many delightful holidays such as Totenkinder and Ouster Eve.
- Unexpected Inheritance: This is what starts the plot.
- Wham Line:
- Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: Zane is vehement about wanting to sell the antique shop and leave town, but Planchett refuses to buy it even at a pittance— the man is completely wedded to the idea that Zane's a swindler.
- Word of God: Not of facts, but of the fact that there are facts. Kris has stated that there is a reason for everything - even the fact that the skeleton in Wadsworth's dream was French.
- Of the first Wham Line example above, Kris says, "This is a very important strip." If he's referring to a way in which it it's important that ISN'T obvious...
- The Worf Effect: Maris of the Bottlefly Boys is found dead in the snow, likely to establish the deadliness of a yet-unknown villain.
- X Meets Y: Straub describes this work as "Tintin goes to Innsmouth"