The Hollows is a 4 issue comic book from writer Chris Ryall and artist Sam Kieth, initially released in 2012-13. The book was re-released as a single giant-sized comic on July 27, 2022. I was unfamiliar with the title and didn’t realize it was a re-release when I picked it up last week. The sketchy cover art, lengthy yet comic book format, and synopsis of a future Japan with creatures led me to pick the book up. I’m glad I did despite the book not being precisely what I expected.
The Hollows takes place in the near future. Craig-San, seemingly an English speaker who has lived in a foreign area for some time, is the protagonist. Craig is a scientist and inventor who lives high above the ground in what looks like giant bonsai trees with his wife, Eiko, and their two sons. Below them, the world has been decimated by radiation. The air is toxic, and there are husks of former people who now subsist by draining the life energy from living humans.
Craig is a bit of a dreamer but also a hard worker, always trying to come up with something to make life better than it currently is for his family. While others use jet packs to visit the wastelands below, Craig, in contrast, uses wings that leave less impact and have little chance of attracting “The Hollows,” as the husks are called. On one of his trips, Craig meets regular humans, including a curious and kind girl named Lani, living amongst the rubble and surviving despite the terrible conditions. The encounter changes Craig as he can’t let go of their unfortunate situation.
From here, the rest of the account is SPOILERS, as Craig’s thoughts and actions after his encounter reveal much about him and the world’s situation while dictating everyone’s fates. It turns out that Craig is responsible for the devastation from radiation as part of a failed experiment to try and better society. His guilt in this matter is apparent and drives him roughshod throughout the story. Craig tries to help Lani and her group, but unfortunately, his attempt only leads to more loss to The Hollows. Things escalate, and Craig, his family, and the world as they know it are all at stake, but the inventor is determined to set things right.
My interpretation of Craig-San’s situation almost reflects a WWII veteran’s. I see him as part of the cause behind the atomic bomb that, when used, decimated a country and changed society. He seems like a former foreigner who decided to stay in the opposing country post-decimation and fell in love with one of its natives. It seems part of the reason he is there is to help repair the damage done by overwhelming technology regardless of whether or not he is responsible for it.
This makes for a relatable perspective as it’s likely the story of many soldiers post-war. This also helps to account for Craig’s guilt and PTSD-like trauma. Are The Hollows actually Craig’s PTSD delusions?
There is also an exciting take on the class structure in society within the story. Craig-San and his family are clearly some of the lucky ones living high above the reality of a nightmare world below. While Craig lives there, he doesn’t seem to share the same beliefs as his peers about the value and destiny of the world below. Instead of just leaving those less fortunate to their own fates, he wants to help. Sadly, trying to cross the line and bring the classes closer together leads to him being ostracized and, eventually, on a grander scale, to destruction.
Meanwhile, Lani and her group living below wish they could be up in the world Craig seems to struggle to fit in with. They believe it is always “bright” and “wonderful” despite never visiting. This is still a fascinating reflection on reality today, ten years after the story was written.
There are also repeated lessons about technology and trying to live beyond your means. The world crumbles into its mess because of attempts at advancement over safety. Society wants more, pushing with technology until it loses what it has. Simultaneously, when technology comes to play in the story, it leads to more trouble and death. This is another very modern reflection, as in 2012, we did not have the dominant social media and cell phones of today.
Kieth’s art plays a vital role in the telling of this story. Sam Kieth has a distinct style that’s very sketchy, cartoony, and sometimes grotesque in its distortions. In the book, the style leaves the reader wondering exactly what story genre they are reading. While there is Japanese influence, it is overshadowed by a children’s storybook look that sometimes devolves into rudimentary sketches.
The art paired with the story left me feeling as if the story is a tragic fairytale or fable. The underlying world seems innocent, and the innocent characters look so in their depictions within the panels. Craig-San, The Hollows, and some others do not have this look. This seems to be on purpose as it helps display the broken innocence wrought on the world by technology that wasn’t meant to be and the fallout that resulted. Truthfully though, I didn’t consciously realize this during my first read-through but instead was a bit perplexed. While the art depicts the story’s actions well enough, it is sometimes confusing while reading and comprehending the story’s weight.
I enjoyed the unique world crafted by both the writer and artist, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. I liked learning about the disaster that created The Hollows, seeing the technology such as the jetpacks in action, and of course, seeing the creatures themselves. There’s a lot to unpack in this world, and you can tell it’s not all displayed on the pages or in the text.
I also enjoyed the boldness of the story and art. I think both are a bit out of the ordinary and probably took some convincing and pushing to get through. The story is packed with lessons and insights, but they aren’t ones everyone wants to discuss. They bring up some sensitive subjects related to the history of some countries that have experienced similar technological advancements, tragedies, and devastation.
The art, meanwhile, isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always beautiful, but it’s the dedicated style of this book, and that’s not something that can be changed. It paints a sad and violent picture at times, while at others, it seems like it’s part of a children’s book.
Despite the very relevant lessons and powerful insight the unique tale provides, I didn’t quite enjoy it as a story. It feels like the narrative is very much that of Craig-San on his last day. It seems to move very quickly but only in one direction. You can consistently define that direction as “bad for Craig.” He is a tragic character, but almost immediately so. I’d like to know more about him before this last terrible series of events for some framework. Instead, the story feels more like it’s a series of adverse events during which we learn of our main character’s sadness and guilt, which become his defining traits.
The story contains a lot of death and loss, but we don’t really get to see much in exchange. We know Craig is trying to set things right, but how things end up doesn’t quite seem worth the effort put forth on the journey. The story seems more of a “here is how we became the few survivors” than the tale of Craig trying to save the world or his family.
I also wish the story had delved deeper. I wanted to know more about Craig, Lani, Craig’s peers, and their society. It’s a very captivating and unusual world. Still, we only know enough surface details to keep the story moving towards its end goal. A prequel or sequel could make this book more relevant and engaging. The importance of this brief period covered in the book could mean much more with more framing from other stories.
I enjoyed thinking about this book after reading it. Trying to comprehend and delve deeper into its foundations brought the book to life for me. While reading it, I wanted to know more, and I enjoyed searching the art in the panels for whatever I was missing. In the end, the story may have been a little too compacted. This may seem odd since it’s already a four-issue tale, but in truth, this story could be a lot longer. I even believe this could end up as a series on a major streaming service with more background and interpersonal drama. Overall I recommended this book to those looking for something outside the box with morals that may hit home if you let them. I give The Hollows 3 out of 5 life-sucking husks.