From writer Paul Allor and artist Paul Tucker comes a deeply personal and focused start to a romantic science fiction comic in the form of “Hollow Heart” #1, published by Vault Comics. This oddly sweet and fascinating comic is a completely new experience even for diehard fans of the genre, wrapping personal philosophy, human relationships, and good ol’ sci-fi up in a brilliant comic book package. With beautiful narrative work and stellar visuals, this is going to be a must read first issue, I can feel it.
“EL used to be human. Now he’s a jumble of organs in a bio-suit. EL is also in tremendous pain and has been for a very long time. Hope arrives in the form of Mateo, a mechanic brought in to work on EL’s suit. Mateo sees LK in a way no one ever has. And what’s more: Mateo offers EL an escape.”
Writing & Plot
The most striking element in Paul Allor’s script for “Hollow Heart” #1 is how he pulls off a bit of a no-no in the comics medium, and nails the hell out of it. Allor utilizes a narrative voice outside of the dialogue for nearly every page of the comic – something generally considered a faux pas in a visual medium. However, instead of using that voice to describe images that can be seen on the panel (which is why this practice is widely discouraged), he uses this technique to weave a narrative inside the heads of his characters that adds a whole new dimension of complexity to the cast and story. What’s more is that we need this kind of perspective to be able to understand who El really is and how he feels. He is, after all, basically just a pink skull in a glass helmet, Being able to understand El’s pain and conflicted emotions in a manner that gives us just enough to understand him, but never overtakes the page, is a huge win on part of this comic. The prose work here is full of insight, while also on a stylistic level is enrapturing. There is some beautiful, near Gaiman-level narrative work going on here, and it makes this comic unique and poetic. The story itself is delivered with a purposeful sense of mystery. We don’t really get much of introduction to El or Mateo and the universe they live in. Instead, this comic focuses on their actions here and now to tell this story. This distills the often highly-conceptual nature of sci-f- stories into a purely character-centric chapter, getting us to intimately knw these two people. This is a comic written with a passion that rarely comes out in any medium, and I’m beyond engaged with this story and whatever Allor plans to write in its future.
This comic’s striking visual style is brought to life by artist Paul Tucker, who builds this world – much like the writing – off of its characters. First and foremost we have to talk about El’s design and how he’s presented here. There’s something instantly engaging about this sorrowful pick skull floating in liquid whilst running around in a giant bio-mechanical suit reminiscent of something from Forbidden Planet. Tucker’s frequent close ups on El’s visage allow us to gauge how this character is feeling even when the narration has stopped. This is a huge credit to Tucker, since he’s able to accomplish this with a character that can’t really emote because of his physical situation. I mean, the guy is a skull in a bowl of liquid. Tucker manages to make him emote with how his eyes move, and also with how he is angles in-panel. Certain perspectives make us able to see what’s on El’s face better than other, so Tucker’s astute visual direction works wonder for getting the reader into the head of this character. The environmental artwork is brilliant as well, offering a variety of sets that range from a dingy bar akin to something in Blade Runner to a sterile laboratory. Every panel, even the lab, feels lived in and realistic, making this sci-fi story feel more feasible than fantastic. Tucker’s colors are a stellar visual feast as well, setting the perfect tone for every scene. The most striking use of this color is, obviously, El’s pink glowing skull in the backdrop of black liquid; an image that is indelible in my mind now that I’m writing this. The character animations and designs for the regular human cast is, admittedly, a tad rough at points, but the direction and detail in other spots more than makes up for this. The sense of visual storytelling that weaves along with the narrative is one that could be used as a textbook example of how comics work as a written and visual medium, and it’s one of the most excellently directed books I’ve read recently.
Another little note I have to make about something I really like about this comic is the breakdown of the lettering for the narrative bits. Allor, the writer, is also the letterer for this issue, and in being so I imagine that gave him license to play with his sentence structure in the text boxes. The sentences in his detached narration are broken up from box to box; so he’ll start a sentence in one textbox only to have it end suddenly and pick it right back up in the following box. It’s a neat trick that actually works really well and I’ve never seen it done in a comic before. He also uses a font for El’s artificial cyborg-ian voice I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a comic, but it illustrates how the character sounds perfectly.
“Hollow Heart” #1 is a beautiful and deeply personal start to this romantic sci-fi comic starring a depressed monster in a space suit. The scripting and lettering from Paul Allor make for one of the most insightful and engrossing reads I’ve taken in thus far in 2021. The visual work of Paul Tucker is well-detailed (if sometimes a bit sloppy) and brilliantly directed. Please check this issue out when it hits shelves on 2-17!