Risk. Not the strategy board game that made your cousin cry that one time, but real risk. It’s something that I feel isn’t seen much in the mainstream comic book landscape. Even some of what could be seen as the biggest risks taken by the big comic book publishers in recent years feel too carefully calculated. Like they boiled their risky idea down to a series of charts and graphs and then ran those through a few too many focus groups before deciding it was just risky enough to capture the imagination of their audience. One company who was built on risk taking is Image Comics. I have to say that a lot of my favorite comics in recent years, not all, but a lot, have been Image books. I’m not saying that charts and graphs and focus groups aren’t a part of their process, because it probably is. The creation of comic books is still a business, after all. But when the origin of your company, the very genesis of your entire business model, came from ditching the mainstream and focusing on giving true control of the art back to the artists, you kind of gain a certain level of street cred. Even when the company you created to rival “The Big Two” becomes one of “The Big Three”.
There are a lot of truly interesting things out there, if you look hard enough, great stories and some fantastic art. The independent comics scene has flourished in the digital age, even if the term “underground comics” doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did. In a world where more and more people are reading their comics on screens rather than on the page, and whether you view that as a good or bad direction is another discussion for another time, it’s obvious that what is considered “mainstream” isn’t what it once was. While Marvel, DC, and Image Comics continue to split a majority of the business in the comics industry, the little guy/girl isn’t as little as he/she once was, either. A good social media presence can make that number of followers translate to a number of paying readers, no matter what your clout in the industry is. Whether you work in the Marvel Bullpen, or you’re just someone with artistic talent and a regularly updated webcomic on Patreon, you can find yourself on almost equal footing in readership. Which is why the big publishers can be seen, in recent years, as less of an endgame for creators and more of another showcase for their work. One that can serve a much larger audience than they might be used to.
Image Comics can hardly be considered an independent publisher anymore, but they still have much of that independent spirit that made them such trailblazers in the early 90’s. And even though they might now be seen as part of the big comics machine, chugging away, they always strive to showcase talent and know when to take risks.
Island #1 feels very much like one of those risks for a couple of reasons. First of which, the $7.99 price tag might be enough to make casual readers and those of us who have a limited monthly comics budget keep walking. That risk pays off, however, when one realizes that they receive 112 pages of comic goodness for their money. The second risk is that not a lot of publishers make comic anthologies anymore. I’m not talking about trade paperbacks collecting story arcs, but anthologies that exist with the purpose of showcasing several different stories all beholden to a specific theme or even similar vibe. Heavy Metal is, of course, one of the first that comes to mind. A few others. But in terms of print anthology comic book magazines, the the field isn’t exactly cluttered.
As far as anthologies go, Island handles the format perfectly. Each of the five entries in this issue are great for different reasons, and their creators really let their creative juices flow.
I.D., as written and drawn by Emma Rios (who serves as co-editor with Brandon Graham), is a unique and captivating look at the concepts of identity and body image. The art is stunning, the story is a fresh look at important issues, though the dialogue stands out as the only real weak point of the piece. The imagery is what shines in this first (damn those “To Be Continued…”‘s!) installment of I.D.
Kelly Sue DeConnick contributes not a comic but an illustrated essay entitled Railbirds and it serves as a beautiful tribute to the late poet and author Maggie Estep. DeConnick draws on her personal experiences with addiction and self-doubt to encapsulate how deeply Estep touched her life and the effect her friendship had on her own personality and world/self view. It’s beautiful and stays with you long after you finish it.
Brandon Graham, the creative co-mastermind of this whole affair, delivers a visually amazing comic entitled “Multiple Warheads 2: Ghosttown“. As the title would suggest, this is a part of a larger story told elsewhere, so it can be a bit hard to follow at times, but the beauty of Graham’s art is enough for anyone to enjoy taking their time with.
Dagger Proof Mummy, by Ludroe, is just a blast. It’s fun and frenetic and really makes you want to ride a skateboard.
The issue wraps up with Polaris 1, in which Brandon Graham addresses us, the readers, and gives us an inside perspective into his process.
Image Comics has a very special thing on their hands with Island. After receiving my copy, I immediately checked to see if pre-order was available for any further issues. Island #2 through #5 are already spoken for and will arrive in my mailbox as they’re released, and I can honestly say that I’m very much looking forward to watching this project grow.
Even at $7.99, and even though it’s by no means flawless, Island #1 definitely offers a return on your investment. I highly recommend you take a risk of your own and check this out.
If you’re interested in seeing more from the creators of Island, check out:
There’s also this great interview over at AV Club.