By Patrick Kindlon, Maria Llovet, and Jim Campbell
Do you ever watch any of that vapid, schlocky reality television starring a celebrity who’s only a celebrity because apparently wanting to be a celebrity is enough to qualify? You look at some of these people and feel like you’re watching an alien exist in a reality completely adrift from your own. Their lives seemingly exist as a never ending fugue state, parading from one bizarre pageantry to another. You wonder, “Is there anything really there?” Below the porcelain surface, surely there must be more than the sole drive of being noticed, of being “it.” Take this line of thought and inject a supernatural horror and a titillating fringe attitude and you’re ready to delve into There’s Nothing There. Effusive, elusive, and elegant, There’s Nothing There #1 is a beguiling and auspicious debut with dazzling art from Llovet. Besides, when’s the last time you saw a good old-fashioned orgy in your comics?
Kindlon’s story manages to entice with its premise of superficial socialite meets surreal near-Lovecraftian supernatural horror, but hedges itself well as to what deeper examinations lie below the surface. While attending an affluent masquerade party that’s also quite clearly about to transcend into an affluent masquerade orgy as hosted by an eloquent Aleister Crowley figure, our protagonist/celebrity dilettante, Reno, revels in hedonism as it gives birth to something otherworldly. The subtext is a little obscure, even as it is perhaps too heavily pushed, but Kindlon gives a nod to the ideas of sacrifice, value, and, of course, faith with focus on a statue depicting the Binding of Isaac. This idea is at its strongest in how it introduces the concept of multiple interpretations and perspectives, something that will perhaps become more prominent as Reno experiences viewpoints outside of her own fragile bubble of an existence. What price is she willing to pay to live outside herself? What will she discover when she’s there? Here in this first issue, Kindlon and Llovet depict ghostly visions as vexing warnings. In the spirit of Lovecraft, the truth of what lies outside may very well be too horrific to process – especially for the mind of someone whose primary concerns revolve around their Instagram popularity.
It’s the opening pages, before the garden of earthly delights takes full hold, that Kindlon shows the least confidence. It’s just a smidge overwritten, as if the story is trying too hard to ensure the reader understands how smarmy and smart it can be, specifically in Reno’s “I don’t give a shit” dialogue and the full bore academic lecture on Isaac. Thankfully, this eases very quickly and Kindlon shows his knack for snappy dialogue and sense for atmosphere. Things become effortlessly natural even as more of the unnatural seep into Reno’s world.
The quick back-and-forth conversation over a lunch feels embarrassingly real in its honesty of our modern shallowness and as such there’s moments of great snide humor to be found. Reno’s world is, of course, our world and this reflection reveals all the hollow horrors of our self-absorbed societal tribulations. It’s sharp and paced very well, further bolstering the effect of the true unknown horrors and warnings that slowly begin to overlap. The character of Judy, Reno’s maid, does give one pause, however, as the depiction and dialogue of an African-American woman in the role of ‘the help’ so far feels like something out of a Shirley Temple picture that was best left in the 1930s. Once the groundwork is laid, Kindlon gets very comfortable putting the magnifying glass over the all-too familiar bullshit of what far too many think they want.
Where has Maria Llovet been all my life? With a dramatic flurry of Fauvism stylings, Llovet absolutely steals the spotlight here. Like a lovechild of Jill Thompson and Matisse, Llovet’s lines are breezy beings that adhere to their own laws of physics. Heavy inks intertwine with expressionistic form and the sum total is something that feels free and of its own mind. Her palette is evocative and awash in mauves and golden straw, but gives way to vivid and sensual magenta when both pleasures and horrors reach their apex. Reno’s world often feels drained of color, of real life, and that’s smartly reflected in how the palette adapts to inject richer hues when the otherworldly is afoot.
More than just the colors themselves, it’s how they behave that’s the most alluring. Llovet delights in being that golden child who thinks coloring inside the lines is for fools and her applications of colors atop her loose inks are stunning. Free molds of colors ride hither and fro adding depth and texture to flora and fauna alike, in a painterly technique that suggest mass and form far greater than a realistic style could hope to achieve. The 40-panel double-page spread (yes, you read that right) of the aforementioned orgy is genuinely erotic in its elegance and a sight to behold in how well it conveys sensuality. It is lovingly intimate while also likely being some of the classiest, hottest shit you will find in a non-exclusively erotica comic. Llovet is a star in the making and easily the best reason to pick up the issue.
Jim Campbell doesn’t try to reinvent the lettering wheel here and smartly lays out word balloons to let the dialogue breathe – no small feat consider how heavy it can get. The choices of when to let balloons overlap and when to let them alternate are doled out well as is the traditional uppercase font. Text messages, complete with emojis, are incorporated really nicely via an opaque application and Campbell deserves kudos for doing so considering how often these types of captions feel like an unwelcome intrusion to a comic reading experience.
There’s Nothing There #1 is eerily comfortable making you uncomfortable. The reality of how often we make our lives nothing more than veneer, or worse, how we strive for this, is laid bare while reflecting against occultist imagery. Just how much it ultimately has to say isn’t clear, but what There’s Nothing There #1 introduces is nothing short of enticing. Kindlon, Llovet, and Campbell are a formidable creative team that craft an unnerving yet breathtakingly beautiful looking book that dares to peel back the façade and ask what’s underneath.