By Scott Southard. I’m a sucker for punk rock. A sucker for rock and roll, zines, collaboration, trend-bucking, weirdo-promoting, inclusive middle fingers, and screaming as loud as you can about the things that matter most. And for all these reasons, I’m a sucker for Island. As perpetual rebels, Brandon Graham and Emma Rios have bucked trends and stretched the creator-owned model of comics to its limits with the immensity of their creative force. It lives up to its name as a one of a kind monolith amid a sea of the mundane.
The variety of stand-alone pieces and ongoing series (held together by a charming vignette featuring Graham & Rios interacting with a vengeful God as they attempt to put each issue together by deadline) is one of the major appeals of each month’s iteration. It’s a grab bag of work that remains consistently fresh and surprising while maintaining a sense of continuity to the preceding issues. None of the individual stories seem to follow traditional storytelling, as they break the comic molds over and over (within the loose confines of touted mold-breaker Image Comics). It’s almost like unwrapping gifts, in that you don’t know what you’re going to get. And there’s a joy of remembrance that comes with each new installment, when an old favorite is found. It is ceaselessly heartwarming. The kind of thing that makes you squeak out an “Aw, yeah!” when you read the table of contents.
Since most of these works are unconventional pieces, they come across as more passion project than obligatory art. The contrast between each creator’s style (some are all words with very little art, and some are just the opposite — and that’s without mentioning the variations in art, content, length, dialogue, etc.) spotlights each piece as something wholly its own and forces the audience to look directly at its idiosyncrasies, for better or worse (almost always for better).
The patchwork constructs of Island give us a viewpoint similar to that of a good mixtape. The format allows the reader to form favorites and rapidly add new writers and artists to their life without having to dig through comic blogs (ugh, what a bore, right?) or forums to find new and challenging stuff. With Graham and Rios as their stewards, the audience can rest easy that quality content is being funneled their way, and such well-curated pipelines are hard to come by.
As far as particulars go, #4 has an enormous, self-contrasting piece by Farel Dalrymple that stretches through his characters, their thoughts, and their environments like an old hiking trail. Brandon Graham continues Multiple Warheads and its pun-infested stoner playpen of unEarthly delights. The epic Stevenson-esque cover by Gael Bertrand stays true to form by providing artwork that seems oddly fitting for the confrontational work within (plus his short Tarot reads like a paneled version of Zelda). It’s one of the more widely sweeping issues with its longer pieces, which is kind of nice as far as fullness of content goes.
Island is collaboration at its purest. Island is a concept piece, continuously reinvented. Island is a beautiful quilt. It stands alone in the endless waves of releases as something truly unique and special. It conjures the same feeling conjured by seeing a movie your friends haven’t heard of or finding a rare import at a record store; it’s the feeling that you know something no one else does. The inclusive sense of exclusivity. Every time a new issue comes out, I want to shout about it to all of my friends. It’s a big ol’ book that’ll be loved by anyone who gives it a chance. And yet, when you parse through its eccentric nooks and crannies, it feels like it’s meant for only you. It’s a comic as punk as I’ve ever seen. And it won’t hold back.
Words and Art by Brandon Graham, Emma Rios, Roque Romero, Robin McConnell, Farel Dalrymple, Gael Bertrand, Addison Duke.
9 out of 10