Comic review: Heart of Shadows by Marco d'Amico & Laura Iorio

Heart of Shadows - Marco Cosimo d'Amico & Laura Iorio
****

Somewhat appropriately Marco Cosimo d'Amico and Laura Iorio's Heart of Shadows occupies a shadowy region of comic art that isn't quite so easily defined or categorised. It is a kind of children's bogeyman tale with a rather storybook feel to the artwork, but it also has a Neil Gaiman-iike sensibility for viewing old myths and tales with a rather more modern and enlightened perspective that manages to explore them for darker undercurrents.

In Italy L'Uomo Nero (The Man in Black) is the equivalent of the bogeyman in the UK and the USA, the figure of a rather sinister and disturbing nursery rhyme. Unfortunately for Luc, a young French lad, it's a favourite bedtime rhyme of his Italian grandmother. Nana has already been told off by Luc's mother, who is particularly sensitive about the issue owing to the disappearance of her daughter Claire 10 years ago. For Luc, it means that he is tormented by visions of Uomo Nero leaping out of his closet every night. Actually, pretty much everything frightens Luc. He's a nervous child, not good around people, friends or teachers, jumpy and afraid of the dark.



One night however something exceptional happens that points to Luc being an exceptional child. Instead of vanishing into the air after leaping out of the wardrobe, the Uomo Nero clashes with Luc and leaves a bump on his head. That shouldn't happen, so Uomo Nero drags Luc over into the Kingdom of Shadows where creatures even more terrifying than Uomo Nero exist, all of them however equally terrified of a human child as much as Luc is terrified of them. Well, almost all of them...

There are some familiar ideas in here that make Heart of Shadows feel like a cross between Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Monsters Inc., but there are other ideas developed here in the notion of a scary creature that is common to many countries in the world, as well as some exploration of the relationship those other places have with ideas of fear and death. With L'Uomo Nero, Luc visits other places with a more traditional closeness with spirituality, with the relationship between the living and the dead, consulting Tibetan monks, shamans celebrating the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and delving into the dreamworld of Australian Aborigines and their music.



It inevitably gets a little bit hallucinatory in places, and the artwork - storyboarded by Roberto Ricci, drawn by Laura Iorio and coloured by Ricci and Iorio - is fabulous for capturing a unique blend of a nightmarish, hallucinatory children's storybook. The figures are beautifully rendered, capturing worlds of light and shadow, colour and darkness, looking in places like Dave McKean with the more European feel of Lorenzo Mattotti. Visually it's very striking, visiting not only many exotic locations but also the darker recesses of the mind, exploring the nature of fear, where there are some more ancient horrors even greater than the bogeyman.

Heart of Shadows by Marco d'Amico and Laura Iorio was originally published in 2016 as Le Coeur de l'Ombre by Dargaud Benelux. It's available now in English translation from Europe Comics in eBook version only. The translation is excellent and the quality of the electronic presentation is superb, fully rendering the quality of the artwork. 110 pages.

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