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'Hollow Heart' #1 review: talking 'bout love, horror, and bio-suit sludge monsters

Comic Books

‘Hollow Heart’ #1 review: talking ’bout love, horror, and bio-suit sludge monsters

Our two staff writers delve deep into this horror-centric queer love story.

This week, with most of us still reeling from the afterglow of Valentine’s Day (or the lack thereof), Vault Comics offers a unique spin on L-O-V-E with Hollow Heart. Witten by Paul Allor, and with art from Paul Tucker, the series follows EL, “a jumble of organs in a bio-suit,” as he meets and falls in love with the “mechanice” Mateo. From early press, this queer-centric horror series promised to not only be entertaining but a great subversion of both core genres.

So, just how well did issue #1 perform? Well, we asked the experts — sort of. Ally Iciek is something of a horror comics novice, while Keigen Rea is already a pro to the genre. So, we had them get together and discuss the debut. The resulting conversation is exploration of queer romance in comics, the power of great horror, and what makes a truly effective story or not, among several other insights (and silly gags).

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Keigen Rea: So, Ally, horror is a thing you haven’t been super into, and this is your first horror comic, right? 

Hollow Heart CoverAlly Iciek: It is pretty much my first single issue horror comic series. I recently read The Sleep Stories by Michael Walsh, which was a great introduction to the genre. Before that, I was very new to the entire idea of the horror comic. The closest I had got is Marvel Zombies, and, at a stretch, Chew from Rob Guillory. 

KR: I can see Chew fitting in in a weird way! 

AI: Yeah, I read it about 10 or so years ago, so it has been a long time. All in all, I am a relative newcomer. 

KR: Which is great! Horror comics have a long history, but recent history has been amazing for them! That being said, do you have any horror touchstones outside of comics?

AI: I have dipped in and out of horror in various mediums. A few suspense novels, such as The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, and The Collector, by John Fowles. I’ve seen a few traditional horror films here and there- my favourite probably being Scream (I love how self-aware it is). However, I’m sometimes put off by the horror in movies, simply because sometimes it all seems a bit too obvious and gratuitous. I’m surprised I haven’t yet got into horror comics fully, since, in many ways, it leaves more room for detail.  

KR: The thing about horror comics is that they’re hard to really get into I think, at least without a good hook. Horror comics don’t have the same kind of trashy—in a good way— series like films do, and I think that’s because it can be hard to do good scary comics, and that’s why I think actual horror works well. That kind of horror that gets under your skin and sticks with you. And those are my horror touchstones, stuff like Get Out in film, or comics like Infidel, and The Plot are all good examples of my kind of horror. 

AI: Yes, and I understand how the medium of comics is a great conveyer of horror. Sequential art always tends to be good at uniting visuals with pure text– allowing both to linger and intertwine with each other to create a lasting sense of tension. 

KR: So, all that being said, how did Paul Allor and Paul Tucker’s Hollow Heart do for you? Is it a good starting horror comic? 

AI: I certainly think so. What immediately appealed to me was that it had a lot of heart and emotion in its narrative. Good horror, for me, is not just cheap scares. It’s the unveiling of the dark corners of human existence, and how that can subsequently clash with the better parts of ourselves. Allor and Tucker certainly begin to do this in Hollow Heart #1.

KR: I agree! I think that new indie books sometimes struggle with world building and exposition up front, but this basically opens by explaining the metaphor at the heart of the issue, and presumably the series. I especially love everything having to do with the goldfish and the use of the fishbowl throughout. 

AI: Oh, absolutely. And the combination of the fish bowl allegory with our leading character, EL’s, imprisonment, makes for an especially chilling exploration of spatial horror. I.e.- the traumatic capabilities of the space around us. I think it’s actually particularly appropriate during these times. The relation we have to space and our environment has been irrevocably changed by the pandemic. I think this issue does well to provoke those fears.  

KR: Oh yeah, totally. I think there are multiple reasons I immediately feel for EL, and the issue does a great job building empathy for him, but being stuck somewhere with no control? Extra relatable. I also was thinking a lot of how that fishbowl is very much the working allegory for the whole issue. It easily could have came off as Joker voice, “we live in a society,” (K note: I swear we did this before the trailer came out)  but I think it really worked. We’re all in some kind of fishbowl, so hopefully we get a guy with nice biceps to fix our suits. 

Hollow Heart

Courtesy of Vault Comics.

AI: I think EL is a very relatable and empathetic character, and his situation was one that I related to in more ways than one. I was actually very ill with anorexia growing up as a teenager, and in and out of hospital for a long time. I could certainly recognize my own experiences in his story of institutionalization- both the pathologization of his body, and his attempts to escape. Now, my own experience was clearly very different from his– no less because I had a lot of supportive people around me. But I really understood and felt the horror of losing agency over both yourself and the space around you. I think Hollow Heart captured it very well. 

KR: I’m sorry you went through that! I think that comparison totally works though, especially the idea of losing your loss of agency through institutionalization. The story makes it easy to have empathy for EL, but hearing your lived experience sells it even better. 

AI: This actually brings me onto the character of Matteo. His role of being a source of gentleness and compassion for EL was something that I experienced in many people, and I appreciated seeing it in this issue. Maybe I am being a tad bit corny here, but– despite all the darkness and horror- there will always be good people. What I also found interesting was seeing Matteo’s life outside the institution. Here is a man that is carrying his own complicated life, yet actively wants to incorporate helping EL into it.  

KR: Matteo is an interesting guy! I don’t think I trust him at all really? I’m not totally sure he deserves credit for being the nicest guy in a prison? But he absolutely fills an important role for El, and impacts him in a positive way. 

AI: Aha! Maybe I am too quick to trust him. I certainly agree with you on the prison part- I am perhaps giving him the benefit of the doubt as a technician, rather than, let’s say, a guard. I think there is some sort of connection between the two- I think they seem to share a sense of isolation and loneliness. Matteo’s actions at the end of the issue certainly indicate some act of defiance against the system that is holding El. That said, whether his intentions are good or not, we will just have to see. 

KR: Yeah, I largely agree with you. I was just thinking of the way that these characters exist relative to each other, but EL does have reason to trust and hold Mateo as the best person in his life. I think that relationship is important to look at from inside their fishbowl, at the same time I just don’t know why Mateo is doing what he’s doing yet, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s compelling! I want to know what’s up there. Is he falling in love? Is he experimenting? Or is it literally just empathy? I don’t know! But I want to!

'Hollow Heart' #1 review: talking 'bout love, horror, and bio-suit sludge monsters

Courtesy of Vault Comics.

AI: This is a good point. I really hope that– regardless of who Mateo turns out to be– the narrative begins to really critically inspect the character’s structural relationship to each other. EL is the prisoner, and Mateo is part of the thing that is imprisoning him. 

KR: Yes, there is definitely something there of Mateo having no systemic reason to show any compassion or empathy to EL.

AI: I actually thought the art of the issue began to visually do this, in the most subtle of ways. The visuals of the cold, metal complex contrast very starkly to the warm interiors of Mateo’s local bar, and later the room of his hookup. Once again, Hollow Heart does a very good job of exploring the meaning behind the spaces we inhabit. 

KR: That’s such a good catch! Going from sterile blues, to that like, washed cream, to the warm reds of the bar and purples of the room was great color work. I’m scrolling through the pages and can feel what the team is trying to say pretty easily. 

AI: Speaking of colors, I would really love to know why Paul Tucker chose pink as the color of EL’s ‘head’ (so to speak). It could be a purely aesthetic choice, but I’m sure that is once again a meaningful visual. I think there’s a lot of passion underneath EL’s solemn loneliness. 

KR: If nothing else it pops visually, I’m sure the main cover will stand out on shelves. I think emphasizing the humanity is probably right though. Pink reminds me mostly of babies, and the way they need to be protected and nurtured. I just want this boy to be okay! 

AI: Oooh, what an interesting difference in associations. But we are both united by the wish to protect this lad at all costs.

KR: He needs help!!!

AI: Issue #2 sees Keigen and Ally break into the pages and free EL once and for all. 

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