Dillon Gilbertson has openly spoken the fact that Sweet Heart #1’s monstrosities represent his own struggles with diabetes, but the first issue quickly establishes itself as an analogy for the many mental and physical horrors that plague us.
Sweet Heart #1
Dillon Gilbertson (writer), Francesco Iquinta (artist), Marco Pagnotta (colourist), Saida Temofonte (letterer)
Action Lab Entertainment
March 4, 2020
Ben first saw the shadowy creatures when he was young, but his mother always did her best to protect him from them. “When she was brave, he was brave,” reads the narration, neatly interspersed throughout the scenes of a mother walking through a forest with her son on her shoulders. Francesco Iquinta and Marco Pagnotta begin the story brightly and cleanly, with smiling faces and colourful scenery. But gradually, as the shadow of the creatures begin to move in closer until they make their first contact, the artwork evolves into a messier, darker feel that serves well to represent the horror of the creatures that haunt them.
The monsters themselves are not particularly unique in design, but the creative team works together effectively to depict their ghastly nature and the fear they induce in the characters. Pagnotta interjects brilliant splashes of bloody red at just the right moments for just the right amount of shock value. Saida Temofonte’s lettering is the icing on the cake, with creepy affectations and jagged sound effects that amplify the murderous violence or create a sense of urgency.
According to the solicited synopsis, these creatures are the bane of all of Ellicott City, a town that is designed to help the citizens cope comfortably with being stalked by these deadly and insatiable monsters. We learn that others are chosen by the creatures, referred to as stringers and bruisers depending on the severity of their abilities and purpose. While we do get to see an example of other creatures, issue one remains focused on Ben and his mother as time passes without really introducing readers to the city where everyone is apparently stalked by these creatures, despite several scene where Ben or his mother get out and about. Presumably subsequent issues will delve more deeply into how the city and the rest of the people function, particularly when the focus shifts to Ben’s daughter.
Basically, Sweet Heart #1 serves as an introduction to the concept, but it perhaps puts too much emphasis on explaining the existence of the creatures and how they affect different people. The analogy to mental and physical illnesses is thinly veiled, but perhaps too intentionally so. The prose quickly begins to feel like what you’d find in a quirky brochure about a particular ailment, instead of the allusion it should be, reminding me of the World Health Organization’s Big Black Dog video series about depression. The difference, of course, being that there are no cutesy images here in this horror comic.
But whether or not you care for the heavy-handed feel of the analogy, as a person who struggles with mental or physical illnesses that require regular monitoring and maintenance in hopes of mitigating their debilitating effects, or if you’re the caregiver or loved one of someone who does, the analogy most certainly works and can be appreciated for what it is. The weight of Sweet Heart’s monsters is heavy and palpable, and it hits close to home in the sometimes — too often — sense of helplessness one can feel when facing them.