Sweet Heart is a new series from Action Lab – Danger Zone that takes place in Ellicott City, a town where being hunted is an everyday risk. While it’s also designed to make life comfortable for its citizens, they’re also being actively stalked by eerie, insatiable creatures that live among them. But, when Ben is chosen by one of the creatures near his home, his mother struggles to cope with the certainty of her son’s death. Written and created by Dillon Gilbertson, with art from Francesco Iaquinta, letters by Saida Temfonte, and colors by Marco Pagnotta. In Sweet Heart #1, Gilbertson lays out the rules of his series, explaining how monsters work, the town, and how humans live with them.
That said, Gilbertson does a wonderful job of blending exposition into a narrative that never feels like the pages are giving us bullet points of how things work. Instead, in Sweet Heart #1, we learn about the monsters through Ben. In just over 30-pages, Gilbertson presents us with the entirety of a life. Before contact with the monster who would hunt him the rest of his life, the hunt, the arrogance, and then the final moment where he loses. Through Gilbertson’s writing, the story feels complete. While this is just a first issue, it also has the strength to stand on its own.
Gilbertson uses horror in the way that it is supposed to. He uses horror to tell a story that is deeper than the monsters in it. I got the chance to speak with Gilbertson about why he created Sweet Heart and used the monstrous specters as a way to explore his life with a chronic illness. While I knew this going in, I don’t think I needed to. Instead, his writing of grief and fear speak for themselves as a horror allegory for something deeper, for the moments in life that haunt us and hunt us even when we think we’re better.
While Gilbertson modeled the monsters and the procedures of keeping them at bay in diabetes and insulin’s image, you can also map your own struggles onto the page. For me, it’s my struggle with depression and an eating disorder, and for Ben, it’s the monsters. He gets cocky, forgets about the thing in the darkness, allows it to creep closer to him instead of taking the tonic that can save him. For me, it’s allowing myself to be pushed to a breaking point over and over, knowing I can come back and recoup from it, but still allowing it to come to me. Sweet Heart #1 carries this weight, using the language I’ve thought and heard from others.
You’ll be rid of your illness, your struggle, you just learn to live with it. Adapt to it, and when you begin to ignore, like the monster stalking Ben, it will strike. This messaging is so overt and yet beautifully mapped onto a fantastical horror story. While the story is phenomenal, Iaquinta’s art brings it home. The monsters are del Toroian, beautiful and fearsome. We also see their variations; a thin one, large ones, the knowledge of small ones, and then the terrifying “bruisers” which are terrifying in scale. Additionally, Pagnotta’s colors make the world feel like a fantasy, particularly the way the monochromatic panels are colored, the darkness of them not only creating an atmosphere of terror, but also foreshadowing the dark moments to come. Finally, Temfonte’s lettering is also well done, clearly delineating narration from thought and dialogue. In Sweet Heart #1, every part of the creative process comes together so well.
Overall, Sweet Heart #1 gives us a look at not only great comic book writing but good horror writing. This series is taking the real fears that people living with chronic illness and maps it onto to a fantasy. I can see my own struggle, and that’s what makes this issue hit so hard.
Sweet Heart #1 is available now.
Sweet Heart #1
Sweet Heart #1 gives us a look at not only great comic book writing but good horror writing. This series is taking the real fears that people living with chronic illness and maps it onto to a fantasy. I can see my own struggle, and that’s what makes this issue hit so hard.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.