What is The Hollow Man?
Firstly, it’s a literary graphic novel. Not to say it’ll be any good, but that’s the intention. For these purposes let’s define literary writing as “writing that moves us emotionally and challenges us intellectually while offering a unique perspective or insight into the world. Fictional and imaginative work open to interpretation; ambiguous, using specialised rather than pragmatically functional language.”
There are many profoundly illuminating literary novels, and a smaller pool of graphic novels. We could do with more, I think. If you believe as I do that the sequential medium is a more powerful mode of expression than the purely written medium, and I’ll be illustrating how I’ve come to that conclusion in later posts, the imbalance seems perverse.
As much as I love graphic novels, I have to admit that were I to list the works of fiction that move me most deeply, and illuminate the human condition most profoundly, they still tend to be written by fiction prose writers or poets: Ian McEwan; Mohsin Hamid; Pat Barker; Phillip Larkin.
I’m also struck by how many of our best graphic novels are non-fiction, Persepolis, Maus, Fun Home et al, and therefore not in the strictest sense novels at all. Novels are clearly fictional.
There’s a glut of fantastical graphic novels and comics too. Much as I’ve enjoyed that kind of work, I’m not going to add to the flood here.
So, the idea for my graphic novel is simply this. Washed up graphic novelist Jay Montgomery returns home and faces up to a childhood moment of violence which unlocks some disturbing secrets.
It reads like a subtle mystery. You’re introduced to Jay as a man with no face or discernible form: a hollow man, barely surviving, adapting to his predicament. You witness a strange event where, as a boy, his neighbour’s property is violently destroyed. The young Jay, then eight, finds this terrifying and starts to lock all the doors to protect himself.
Jay’s perilous financial circumstances force him to move back in with his mum to finish the autobiographical graphic novel he’s working on: ‘The Hollow Man’’. It’s set in the valley of an ancient woodland next to his lonely childhood home, and as he explores the area and creates the comic, he rekindles a romance with the first person he ever kissed, Pippa Crewe. He hasn’t been home for twenty years, and their somewhat unhealthy relationship unlocks latent memories about his childhood and a number of events which he’s completely misinterpreted. And by the end of the book we learn the terrible truth, and who the Hollow Man is, with some emotionally devastating ramifications.
It’s nostalgic, funny and strangely uplifting: a deeply personal work covering everything from child abuse, eighties pop, erotic awakenings, and the lies we all tell ourselves. The central theme is time and memory; how perceptions change, define you, betray you, and provide catharsis or trauma as you age – ultimately illuminating how we’re all defined by experience, thought, and each other.
The storytelling approach is experimental, though not recklessly so, combining prose, image and dialogue in complex, clear and original ways, exploring new techniques and possibilities. Dr Kirtley’s eye tracking research on words and image underpins some of my ideas, which I’ll expand upon in subsequent posts.