For your post-Christmas fun, some really English folk horror? One of the graphic novels of the year by Graphic Material was Blackwood by Hannah Eaton. It’s a beautifully drawn story of two suspiciously identical murders in a tiny, forgotten corner of the world, decades apart.
Set in the fictional town of Blackwood, the tale of Eaton embraces creepy folk customs and witchcraft rumors, as well as a local peer with a menagerie and Irish servants, but also deals with themes that are very much of the moment of insularity, class, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Here, Eaton talks about her novel, the murders that inspired it in real life, family history, Brexit, her love of “The Wicker Man,” the end of multiculturalism, and Agatha Christie’s “obfuscating woo-woo”
First of all, Hannah, the attention to detail on every panel on every Blackwood page is unbelievable. How much time did it take you to draw?
How much time did it take you to draw? Hey, thank you. For six years, I worked intermittently on it. Much of the time, with a couple of months off here and there, I worked full time or part time in schools and child care. I lost almost all of my paid work when the pandemic broke out, but I finally had enough time to finish the novel. I’m grateful to myself that six years ago I chose to pencil all, even if you do a bad drawing, you can delete the terrible part of it and you don’t have to start it all over again!
Similarly complex is the story. How did the term come about?
Via a view. I’ve dreamed of being oppressed by various cults since I was a child, and this dream was about a small town in rural England run by a sinister guild of town elders who wanted to arrest and kill me, the Rotary Club of Nightmares. There was also a good pastoral section where, for a fertility rite, people tied baby shoes to an apple tree. I wrote the entire structure of the story after that, which took forever, but the setting – the city of Blackwood – came into full force.
In the novel, the murders were inspired by the 1948 Meon Hill Witchcraft Murders. Can you tell us a little bit about those assassinations?
An elderly farm laborer named Charles Walton was bludgeoned to death in Lower Quainton in Warwickshire and then stabbed and labelled with his own pitchfork and billhook, which was apparently a common tradition to stop a witch from going on after her death. Robert Fabian, the renowned detective of Scotland Yard, investigated, but his team was thwarted by button-flipping locals, witchcraft stories, a xenophobic scapegoat for an Italian prisoner of war, and widespread superstition.
In the 1990s, my aunt lived nearby, and people were always whispering about it, and they were talking in a kind of 16th-century way about Meon Hill. “Apparently that’s where the witches hold their Sabbaths.”
This place is pretty scary. There is an Iron Age hill fort near a popular stone circle, and the summit is almost inaccessible for some reason – there are no footpaths or bridle paths that lead up there at all. I kept asking them about it, secretly hoping that the reality was really mystical and supernatural, and not just brutal and sad.
You were born and live in Brighton, London. Do you have any experience of residing in a small town in England?
Oh, well. When I got a job there in my twenties, I moved to a small town on the south coast (mistakenly named “the jewel of Kent”) for five years. I fell in love with the barren marshland and the sea, but not with the fact that it was literally UKIP’s cradle and that there were two ways to socialize: you could sit on a bench outside Aldi if you were stingy, and if you weren’t, you could go to a sex party with Tory MPs in the next village.
There was a weekly psychic evening for a pound if you were spiritually inclined, which I went to two times. I once worked in a nursing home where my boss was very free with the fact that she was a reincarnated Assyro-Babylonian temple priestess who used to give me psychic messages from my father and had a white tiger (“in spirit”) sitting under the desk in the office assisting with staff assessments. There are many magicians and psychics in Kent.
It is a novel that moves to the present from the 1950s. What a lot of research you had to do alone for the visual content,