Synopsis: Roz, a wanderer of the alien planet Paeroa, finds a young amnesiac named Nicholas. After rescuing the boy from certain death, Roz, Nicholas, and Roz’s traveling companion, Gebs (who looks like a sentient gorilla with pants) set off on a wild adventure to reunite Nicholas with his mother. Along their journey, the trio must avoid the perils of the Peculiar flora and fauna of Paeroa while staying ahead of the mysterious Cloaks chasing Nicholas. Welcome to the Hollow Mountain.
Review: Hollow Mountain is an outstanding fantasy tale in the rich tradition of the bizarre. The DNA of this story can be seen in its predecessors such as: The Dark Crystal, Prophet, Wizards, The Never Ending Story, Multiple Warheads. If any of those examples resonate with you, then Hollow Mountain is the book for you. All of the elements of the hero’s journey are present. We start this epic with a creation myth. An unknown narrator explains how this world came to be; furthermore, this explains why this world, though very alien and disparate, works in harmony. Writer and artist Austin James has taken a great care in his world building, and he did it with a solid foundation.
Nicholas begins his journey in a wasteland. Barefoot and in pajamas, Nick seems ill prepared for the dangers of this unfamiliar world. Roz, the main hero of the story, rescues the boy while out foraging for food. Roz seems capable, resourceful. By pairing these two together, James is able to subvert the traditional idea of the hero dynamic – I will let you figure how on your own. When Roz and Nick meet up with Gebs, the trio begin to traverse more of the world, and they begin to be hunted by the Cloaks . These beings seem deadly and terrifically terrifying. As the characters move from one strange locale to another, we are treated to small little vignettes of Paeroa.
Where Hollow Mountain really shines is in the details. We get little snippets of life around our trinity. Some of this involves meeting Peegles as they discuss the cycle of childbirth and death (a hilarious moment), or just seeing how these plants and animals all interact in nature. James also does something that can be a bit of a gamble. With this world being so foreign, it can sometimes distance the reader; hence, the addition of a field guide gives much-needed explanation of what we have read. The gamble pays off in a big way. It is one of the best parts about this graphic novel. The field guide with all of the exotic plants and animals underscores the idea that this is an actual place. Thus, continuing the meticulous layering of this story.
The art for Hollow Mountain is gorgeous yet grotesque, and Paeroa doesn’t just seem alive. It is alive. This world breathes and teems with a vibrancy that is difficult to generate when world building. Take the Rudebarbs for example. These fun -albeit slightly disgusting- creatures add an element of comedy and emphasizes the rich biodiversity that make this story. In a world that billows the way this one does, nothing seems static. Our characters are no exception either. Roz, Nick, and Gebs appear dynamic and expressive. Austin James accomplishes so much with a simple character designs, and it all blends together seamlessly. Yet the way he orchestrates his splashes pages in Hollow Mountain, Austin James demonstrates a fundamental understanding of how to conduct something so complex with simplicity.
Hollow Mountain is a wonderful odyssey into the strange. There is a richness here that stems from how beautifully crafted this world. With so much packed into this first volume, the story could be overstuffed and bogged down. It is not. The story feels exciting, and the pacing is great. While this type of story may not be suited to everyone’s taste, Hollow Mountain has much to offer for lovers of the genre.