By Kelly Gaines
I have to admit that Hollow Monsters #1 went a bit over my head. It’s a non-linear narrative describing both ordinary and foreboding events in the life of a boy named Jay. We see Jay at pivotal moments ranging from early childhood to his adult life as a struggling comic book creator. Jay is a likable enough character, and there is obvious talent in the creative process, but I found myself far more bewildered than impressed by the end of this first issue. I try to stay away from commenting on the creator’s opinion of their own work in my reviews (i.e., the morals they aim to teach and goals they’ve set for a specific work). It feels more honest to present my readers with my own interpretations of what’s given on the page. A review should be a cut and dry critique of the finished issue. Hollow Monsters has presented me an odd exception. The writer chose to close out issue #1 with an in-depth editorial. He talks about the challenges of writing, drawing, and lettering a book on his own, and elaborates on his intentions as the creative force behind Hollow Monsters. I’ve seen writers and publishers offer insight into a book within the book itself, but not quite like this. It appears the creator was well aware of the story’s difficult to follow path and felt the need to justify his work at the conclusion of the first chapter. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that choice, but it does take away from the trust readers have in the intuitive storytelling of the writer. I once took a whole class on whether or not it’s okay for a writer to tell their reader what they should get out of a text, and the answer was inconclusive. When it comes to fiction, there are no rules. Except for plagiarism. Don’t do that.
Hollow Monsters is wedged somewhere between coming of age story and supernatural thriller. It’s clear from early on that something is fundamentally off in Jay’s world. His childhood is plagued by strange events, horrific dreams, and shadowy creatures. It’s thematically interesting, but not developed in clear terms until the postscript of the issue. When I say not developed, I do not mean that mysteries have to be introduced and wrapped up neatly in thirty minutes or less. What I mean is that by the end of the issue, I am still not certain what it is I’m reading. There’s a supernatural element, a political/ social element, and a quasi-biographical element. Yes, these elements can work together. Yes, there is obvious merit in the details. However, if you were to ask me what Hollow Monsters is about, I couldn’t tell you. It’s about the life of Jay. That is the only concept I feel comfortable saying I have a handle on- and I could be wrong. It should be noted that in the writer’s ending message he explains that while the piece is personal and has some autobiographical components, it is not a biography. This is still a plain work of fiction, and somehow that makes it more confusing. I don’t know what Jay wants, what obstacle he’s trying to overcome, or what the threat to his status quo is. I can see this being a frustrating book for a lot of readers, especially readers who have difficulty following non-linear narratives.
That’s not to say that Hollow Monsters doesn’t have its strengths. The details in character and dialogue are stunning. A personal favorite of mine is the attention given to group memory, a sort of mob mentality that changes personal thought based on what others experiencing the same stimulant take away from it. Child Jay talks about accidentally seeing neighbors having sex. The description feels honest to what someone that young would focus on in such a situation, but a few panels later it is revealed that Jay never saw the neighbors at all. Other neighborhood boys caught a glimpse of the scandalous act and shared it so vividly and wildly to the other children that it became a shared experience. Suddenly everyone had seen the neighbors doing it, and if you’ve ever been a bored kid in suburbia, you know how events like that become everyone’s urban legend- ordinary as it may be. That’s just one small detail mixed in with a dozen others. As lost as I felt in other parts of the story, grounding details like that are what held my interest.
There is another roadblock in the way of my complete understanding of Hollow Monsters. There are pages dedicated to news clippings of historical, social and political events. From what I can tell, they move from the 1970’s to 1990’s and focus heavily on European news. There were a few I recognized, such as the Nirvana album cover and Shelley Duvall’s terrified face in The Shining’s ax scene, but a majority of these referential pages were lost on me. Naturally, my ignorance is my own fault, but any other mid to late 90’s kids might have a difficult time getting the references. Creating a narrative that is both lucid and dated is tricky, and Hollow Monsters walks that line a little clumsily.
Hollow Monsters #1 is complex, ambitious, and just over my head. It’s written by someone who loves comics as a medium and is willing to take risks and experiment with the boundaries. I respect that, difficult as it may be to understand. So far, I would only recommend this title to seasoned indie comic fans. I would have preferred reading It over another time or two before seeing what the writer had to say (and I’ve done my best to keep from mentioning what he said here as it feels like a spoiler). I intend to follow this title a bit further and see what can be fleshed out down the line. I don’t know who The Hollow Man is, or what he has to do with Jay, but I’m up for finding out.
Hollow Monsters #1
Self Published by Monty Nero