Hollow Harbor’s “Tyrants” is strong worldbuilding with an intriguing premise
There are lots and lots of great comics being published today, and lots of publishers putting out this great content. Being new to the scene, then, has got to be pretty intimidating. After all, besides the “big guns” of Marvel, DC, Image, and BOOM! Studios, there are countless other publishers who are contributing to the comics renaissance: Valiant, Oni, IDW, Lion Forge, and so many more.
Get ready to place Hollow Harbor among those hallowed ranks, as this is a publisher well worth keeping an eye on.
While their approach isn’t as innovative as TKO’s “bingeable” release schedule, Hollow Harbor has some great original content that should make you take notice. With three issues already available, Tyrants is a great example of the type of storytelling you can expect from the publisher: strong, character-driven fantasy with great concepts and worldbuilding.
Tyrants is the story of Atum, a young prince who lives on the Spiral, an archipelago that is made up of eight islands. His home, in his own words, “has to be the worst.” He wants to be free, to visit the other islands as he pleases, but he is beholden to his father and his duty.
What is refreshing about this story is that, while there are some familiar storytelling tropes, writer and creator Josh Barbeau takes the characters and story in some refreshingly different directions. Atum is a bit of a “tortured youth,” sure, and he and his father butt heads on occasion. More often, though, they speak to each other with love, grace, and affection. They genuinely care for each other, and it shows in their conversations. Any strain on their relationship is more due to the stresses of circumstances well beyond their control, not any deep-seated anger or bitterness they harbor toward each other.
The Spiral itself is the most fascinating aspect of Barbeau’s story, and the strong foundation on which he builds his narrative. We’re introduced to the different islands in small doses, either through conversations between characters or by taking temporary visits. Too often in fantasy does the need to introduce the reader to a new world create problems in storytelling, either by being overly expository and esoteric as to lose the audience, or by failing to truly transport the reader to a different time and place.
While Tyrants still has much to reveal and many different places it can go, Barbeau makes his world inviting and, more importantly, interesting. Besides each island housing different factions and tribes of people, some inhabitants are bestowed with unique sets of powers: some characters can change shape, there’s a pyromancer involved, and Atum himself can take on the form of a cloud of smoke. He’s just getting used to this power, too, so seeing him learn and grow adds another layer of depth to the story.
Really, though, I just want to visit more of these islands and learn more about the history of the Spiral. There was a conflict that caused a schism between most of the different kingdoms in the archipelago, and Atum’s father Auberon is doing the best he can to maintain peace for his people while making up for past mistakes. Being so engrossed in a new world of fantasy is priority one in a book like this, and Barbeau has accomplished that goal nicely. Wanting to learn more and visit new places is never a bad thing, and a sure sign of a successfully engrossing fantasy world.
Tyrants has a fairly strong visual identity as well, from the wardrobe choices reflecting different culture on the Spiral to some clean, strong lettering by Rod Ollerenshaw. I generally liked the look of the book, though I will say Esau Figueroa’s pencils and Andre Zãrate’s colors could use a little more detail. There are several instances where the backgrounds in panels are completely bare, and while a scene in the third issue makes clever use of blank space, there are a few times that the action is a little flat. Their panel layout choices are often inspired, and the clean character designs and uncomplicated colors make the action easy to follow throughout each issue. There are just times that the already interesting world of the Spiral could benefit from more background detail, so hopefully we’ll get to see more geographical and architectural detail in future issues.
I think the best compliment I can pay this or any book is that I want more. Any criticisms I have lie not in disliking what’s there, but wanting more of some already strong content. The world of the Spiral is interesting and engaging, with a likable lead and a world that is as fantastic as it is inviting. If they play their cards right, Hollow Harbor may just have an indie hit on their hands.
For more information on Hollow Harbor, Tyrants, and other available titles, head to their website.