Broodhollow, by Kris Straub
Kris Straub is the master.
Creepy little towns are a standing tradition in horror, but Broodhollow’s creepiness is intimately bound up in how blissfully ignorant it is. Even at its most intense, it never stops being thoroughly quaint and sweet. Even at its most light-hearted, it never stops being eerily sinister.
And then they start playing into each other. The obliviousness of Broodhollow’s inhabitants may easily be the most disturbing thing about it, while the sheer number of unobtrusive creepy details strangely make the town even more charming. It’s sort of like if it were filmed or animated, beneath the music and voices would be the sound of a constant beating heart - so quietly you can only hear it when nothing is happening and the music drops out, but setting the tempo of the entire soundtrack without ever becoming louder or softer or faster or slower. Easily ignored, like your own pulse, but nonetheless there, and whenever you can hear it you remember that, sooner or later, bad things will befall these characters, and you don’t know what but you don’t want them to happen, and the longer you watch the more you care about them so you almost want them to happen now before you care too much, but when they finally happen they turn out to be almost nothing compared to whatever that thing is just around the next corner.
The important thing is, this doll. I love this doll. Everyone Knows (tm) that dolls are creepy, and this one certainly looks the part. Zane and the lady he’s selling it to don’t seem to notice, even though their conversation certainly does have a double meaning to it and would be an incredible case of dramatic irony - if the doll were of any significance whatsoever. The story has nothing to do with it. It hasn’t come up since Zane’s customer took it home. It’s of so little consequence that the panel above isn’t even the punchline of the only strip in which the doll appears.
Basically, Kris presented the complete hook for a ghost story cliché, then promptly discarded it without using it, using the uncertainty of whether or not anything would have happened to develop the atmosphere of the overall story, while undermining reader expectations for an incidental joke. All in only two panels.
Broodhollow is full of this sort of thing.
This is why Kris is the master.
I love this comic.