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Webcomic / Broodhollow

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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!
Dr. Angstrom: And these behaviors protect you from ghosts.
Wadsworth: Yes!

Broodhollow 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 (many of which are based on Straub's actual superstitions), 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.

The Bottlefly 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 Obsessively Organized tendencies by nailing everything in his room shut when he believes he's going to be attacked by a ghost. It doesn't work.
    • Can be seen as an example of Gone Horribly Right. Zane's efforts to keep his ghostly stalker away were a complete success. The problem with this was the ghost's presence was actually protecting him from something much worse.
  • Action Girl: Iris gets a chance to be one. Briefly and awesomely.
  • 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.
  • Anachronism Stew: The menu at Cubby's, according to the comments.
  • 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.
  • Art Shift: The comic is drawn utilizing a cartoony style reminiscent of comics like Tintin. That is, until the ghosts and monsters show up, at least...
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Zane manages to kill the corpsebug by finding a patch of skin unprotected by chitin (or skeletons) and takes a corkscrew to it.
  • 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 Creepy-Crawlies: The corpsebug that killed Maris and the visiting author. Also a weird... spider... thing that shows up in an odd picture in a short story.
  • 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".
  • Berserk Button: Do not insult Iris in front of Zane.
  • Body Horror:
    • Zane's nightmares tend to involve quite a bit of it. Like people's heads caving in and a Humanoid Abomination crawling out of a hole in his back.
    • Harker, by the time he gets hold of Wadsworth, is mostly bones with bits of skin sewn on.
  • 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 Switchwater: 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. His motivation for doing so isn't explored, but he ends up with a steady-ish job and friends... in a place that seems to actively cause people to not want to leave.
  • 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. It, uh, wasn't in the best of shape before that, either.
  • 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 have honestly believed Wadsworth was an out-of-towner con man looking to make a quick hundred dollars selling property that wasn't actually his. Later chapters establish that Planchett is just a bristly guy in general, and he tones down his mistreatment of Wadsworth as they get to know each other.
  • Cool Old Guy: 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. Worst part is, the ghost's influence seems to hide the exit]...
  • 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. Nearly.
  • 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.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: A minor recurring character is a newsboy who hits the standard tropes.
  • 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.
  • Giant Flyer: The demonic bats that attack Wadsworth in the first chapter. They may not even be real, considering the Bottlefly Boys only saw normal bats... but then, they couldn't see the corpsebug properly either.
  • 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.
  • Improvised Weapon: So far, the most deadly objects in the strip have been a frying pan and a corkscrew.
  • Jerkass: 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.
  • Obsessively Organized: Wadsworth needs things to be closed.
  • One-Word Title: The Place the story's set.
  • 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.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Wadsworth was a Encyclopedia salesman before coming to Broodhollow... during The Great Depression. Yeah.
  • 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".
  • 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.
    • A careful reader will notice that the article also mentions the death of Iris, given that it has her mother, Maude Bellweather, talking about the deaths of her husband and daughter.
  • 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.
  • Spooky Photographs: A short story involves Wadsworth taking up photography as a hobby using a camera he found in an antique shop. The pictures are, predictably, fairly... off.
  • Theme Naming: The Bottlefly Boys are named Maris, Morris and Maurice, which are pronounced almost identically.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Why hit a murderous ghost assembling itself a body from pieces of its victims once when you can hit it fifteen more times?
  • Throat Light: The demon bats that may or may not be real.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop:
    • Well, Broodhollow is mentioned as often as would be expected, but the very first page gets the prerequisite dramatic exclaiming of the name out of the way.
    • The first chapter, 'Curious Little Thing,' is how the characters refer to Maddy, the supposed antagonist.
  • 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.
  • The Worf Effect: Maris of the Bottlefly Boys is found dead in the snow, likely to establish the deadliness of a yet-unknown villain.