Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
Hollow in the Hollows
While smacking of pretension, it is important that I quote a little Shelley before I begin writing about Dakota McFadzean’s new book from One Percent Press, Hollow In The Hollows. I know. I know… but bear with me, it will all make sense in a moment.
To The Moon
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no worth object worth its constancy?
Okay, that wasn’t so painful, was it? As odd of a character that Shelley guy was, he sure could write him some poetry.
In “To the Moon” Shelley addresses the moon about its paleness, and, while doing so, imbues the moon with his own longings and sense of entitlement which then, of course, elevates himself to cosmic proportions. Such was the kind of guy Shelley was. Still, let’s separate the art from the artist.
As he was a neo-classicist as much as a Romantic, surely Shelley couldn’t help but look at the moon and think of the myth of Artemis, which is where I finally get to start actually talking about Hollow in the Hollows (this may be called burying the lede, but fuck it, who the hell is even reading this at this point).
When I first read Hollow in the Hollows, I kept expecting more to happen. The whole book throbs and pushes towards something vaguely ominous but never pays off in that direction. Its ending rings hollow, as it were. Reading McFadzean here became off-putting in this regard, especially for someone expecting some sort of denouement, no matter how sullied or obscure.
But something about it lingered.
Hollow in the Hollows became an itch that demanded scratching. There was obviously more that was undulating below its narrative surface. It was upon reading Shelly’s poetry and thinking about the moon that, BOOM, this book bloomed before me like a Dragon Fruit flower.
All the symbolism is there. The moon, the deer, the forest – it all led to Artemis, goddess of the hunt and goddess of virginity and, yes, protector of young girls.
Once access of this sort is granted, the heretofore tight box becomes a open field. Hollow in the Hollows dances in the coming-of-age trope in a way that both celebrates and forewarns. Not quite a cautionary tale, it resonates with the fear a burgeoning sexuality engenders, the confusion inherent in it, and the almost mystical aspect of change itself. Like I said, there’s an ominous tone running as an undercurrent throughout the book which never flowers, but given the context it is the perfect choice for what McFadzean wants his audience to walk away with.
In terms of his art, McFadzean’s stylized characters are juxtaposed sharply with intricately detailed environments and details. Objects gain prominence in his panels, while the main characters, through a more abstract presentation, become more universal. You were Mary at one point in your life, you built your totems in the forest only to have them torn apart. Your masks never looked like they did in your mind; they only hide so much.
Using intellectual conceits and artistic manipulation, Dakota McFadzean creates an emotional mirror with Hollow in the Hollows. We may not recognize the face it reflects, but we cannot deny the feelings it casts back.
You can purchase Hollow in the Hollows from One Percent Press.
– Daniel Elkin
(Cathy G. Johnson)
Jeremiah begins with a touch of fingers to lips. A young wispy blonde girl looks a hulking blonde boy in the eye and whispers to him the words “you are not a child.” The couple kiss at the bottom of the page and we flip to the next page where we see the boy lying on his back, appearing for all the world like a fallen titan, or maybe an innocent giant or a cryptically frustrated big teenager, as the tiny-appearing girl hugs him, all spindly legs and too-large feet that show that she might one day grow taller and have her own power. He’s a large boy who seems small; she a small girl who seems large.
In that moment, questions well up in the reader’s mind; not just the obvious stuff like who are these kids and why are they in this field and what does that mean, but more questions flow, deeper ponderings, as we observe this calm, almost dreamlike scene. As the boy kisses the girl on her forehead, their faces nearly abstractions but full of portent and complexity.
The opening scene is so important to the extraordinary Jeremiah because it is the book in microcosm: this is a slow, contemplative work in which so much happens below the surface and so much happens right in front of us. In creator Cathy Johnson’s hands, this gorgeous meditative work has a measured building intensity and beauty that belies its Midwestern pastoral style. In every pensive look from the boy, who we learn is named Jeremiah; in the girl, Catie, whose life is tragic but who carries grace with her; in every brooding angry glance from drifter Michael, who unhappily ends up at this mysterious farm in the middle of nothing but dying wheat, we feel mystery and we feel a growing tension that at times feels unbearable.
It’s pensive, yes, but Johnson also delivers a tension that’s unique to this remarkable graphic novel, because it works on subtle implication that comes from the things that are not in front of the reader, of the stories not told: where are Catie’s parents? What happens to Jeremiah’s dad, and why can’t the father look his son in the eye? What does the ending mean – is it intended to be taken literally or figuratively? Do the shocking events between Michael and Jeremiah speak of an innocent fallen? A man who’s unleashed his own wolf? Or does it speak of Jeremiah’s true self released to the world?
Johnson gives us no answers besides this small but lovely beautifully watercolored, thoughtful graphic novel. We can see Jeremiah as narrative or parable, maybe a symbolic tale or as a Midwestern gothic in the tradition of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings (Wyeth is namechecked in the afterword). It’s an artfully created work that demands that the reader make sense of it, and in that cryptic nature lies its most haunting elements: I first read Jeremiah late last year and found it frequently bedeviling my thoughts and playing in the corners of my mind since that first read.
The cover contains a variation on the classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and that symbolizes the complexity of Johnson’s creation. Jeremiah begins with the words, “You are not a child” and that gives us an early signpost of how we can read it. People change. People grow. Big feet on children can lead way to big lives. But a wolf is always lurking in the woods, and the lingering final words in this book (which I won’t spoil) imply that the wolf can lead to something very different from what anyone expects.
You can read all of Jeremiah online here.
– Jason Sacks