At the end of his introduction for The Hollow Planet, Scott Thompson writes, “I hope you like it, but just remember that if you don’t you must hate life and love cancer.” This isn’t arbitrary silliness on his part. Thompson fought stomach cancer through much of the creation of this book and used the imaginary world of Danny Husk as a way to escape the pain and suffering of reality. Holy crap, the pressure was on.
While this is Thompson’s first foray into the world of comic books and graphic novels, the character of Danny Husk has been around for a couple of decades now. Remember The Kids in the Hall? Thompson was one of them – the openly gay one who regularly mocked homosexuality on the show with sketches like “Homo Alone” and monologues by his fabulously slutty alter ego Buddy Cole. I met Thompson in 2008 when the KITH went on tour. I’m not even kidding when I say I can put that night in the top three of my life. I’d been watching KITH since before I was old enough to understand the jokes. I mean, look at that picture – I look like I just wet myself from excitement.
So, when The Hollow Planet came out I was totally on board. Thompson likes fantasy lit. and felt a distinct lack of either humor or sex in most fantasy (girlfriend needs to read some Jacqueline Carey). And so he took Danny Husk, a man who is average in every way possible (In his first line, he declares vanilla to be his passion) has a moustache that all dads in their 40s must have and plops him down in the middle of a sword and sorcery fantasy world with S&M themes. I like life on most days and I certainly do not love cancer, so I was and am actually kind of mad at myself for having mixed feelings about The Hollow Planet. I wanted to laugh so hard I cried, and I just can’t because I didn’t think it was very funny as a whole.
I’m all about positive criticism, so let me start with the good things, because The Hollow Planet is not a waste of time and money – let me make that clear. If you are a KITH fan, do yourself a favor and pick up this book for the sake of nostalgia. There are moments that are very funny and are just so… Scott Thompson. His comedic voice comes through loud and clear at times and his thought process in character development is almost palpable. His love for these characters and this story is apparent in every panel, and because of that it is impossible not to feel some affection as well. Having been through a creative writing graduate program, I can honestly say that if a person does not love their work, it shows. And if the author does not love his or her work, how will anyone else?
Thompson has a gift for character. Simple details throughout, like the removal of a wedding ring or a years long addiction to nicotine patches speak for each character. This is a humorous book but a poignant one as well. Danny Husk’s son went missing as a small child and no one in the remainder of his family has moved on. Danny dreams of the day his son went missing, his wife sleeps in the son’s room every night, and his daughter is on the fast track to becoming the stereotypical uncontrollable teenager. But Danny plugs along with life, determined to remain as average as possible despite the constant shit storm that has become his day to day existence.
However, character is also where The Hollow Planet falls short. Danny Husk is a very visual character. He’s static, average, bland, non-reactive and the graphic novel medium doesn’t do that justice. We can’t see his lack of facial expression or hear his lack of intonation. Moments of non-reaction from the character that would be hilarious in a sketch or movie are lost on the page. In fact, Thompson had originally written Hollow Planet as a screenplay and the book still very much reads like one, which may be more the fault of Stephan Nilson who adapted it. The flow from one page to the next, from one bit of dialogue to the next is at times very, very difficult to follow. The plot is studded with nonsequiters.
For example, in one panel Danny argues with his wife and in the next he stands at the sideline of a soccer field. We can safely assume that he left his home to go to the soccer field, but why? And how? There are moments all over this book that are stapled together without explanation or transition. There are situations with obvious backstory that are never explained. Why does Danny work in the abandoned part of his office? Why did he have a falling out with his best friend? Who is his daughter, other than a plot device (she does become marginally important later)?
I believe that the idea for this story is solid. But there is a reason that high fantasy doesn’t usually work in movies, television, or comics. There is simply too much world building involved, too much that is alien and needs exposition, all of which is much easier to get across in novel form. I also honestly don’t believe that high fantasy and comedy make for a good match (but was willing to give Scott Thompson a try because it’s Scott frigging Thompson). I am very much not a fan of Terry Pratchett and the like, so maybe I’m the wrong person to review this book in the first place. But to impose body language and idioms that we find humorous in this world in 2011 into a different land and time is jarring. I like my comedy and my epic fantasy separate, like all of the food on my dinner plate.
In addition to structural issues, Hollow Planet takes a few creepy turns that make the story itself much more brutal than perhaps what was originally intended. I mean pedobear creepy – not scary creepy. I don’t want to spoil the end (which really is very predictable), but once we finally discover the fate of Danny’s missing son and all of the details attached, well… this becomes a very different story.
So, I kind of hate myself for not liking this as much as I wanted to. I like Scott Thompson a lot. I could watch KITH over and over again forever and I would party with him any day of the week and go to work all messed up the next day. I also hear he was excellent on The Larry Sanders Show, but I’ve never had HBO. I feel like it’s my fault for not liking Hollow Planet. Like I might be missing something. But like it or not, I respect the effort of this project. Thompson took this character that was dear to him and a genre he loved and created a story that not only made him happy but was available for others to enjoy. How many of us can say the same? We all have stories we want to tell but not often the willpower to make them real. So, good for you Scott Thompson. I may not have liked Hollow Planet a whole lot, but I’m one silly person. I hope you write more. I will continue reading.