'Isola' a stylized, enigmatic journey of craft and care

‘Isola’ a stylized, enigmatic journey of craft and care

Cover to 'Isola' #2. Art by Karl Kerschl and Msassyk/Image Comics

Cover to ‘Isola’ #2. Art by Karl Kerschl and Msassyk/Image Comics

By Arpad Okay. I came for the stunning character design. The costumes that Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl have developed, heck, the world they occupy, they are pure fantasy delights. People have compared Isola to Miyazaki, and while for me it feels way more like Beagle’s Last Unicorn or Ishiguro’s Buried Giant, I can see how the looks evoke something straight out of Laputa. It’s a beast of an aesthetic, as inspired as it comes, but so subtle. That’s what got me to crack the spine (and Msassyk’s colors, which I will get to).

Isola communicates regret without words. Shock melts away into ire in eyebrows and turns into a beating from an amazon. Making a tiger look playful or sad is something I can grasp, but Isola manages to make her look ill, ailing, again in the eyes and eyebrows, with such skill that I can look at her feline face and know how wiped out she feels before she falls. One of the issue’s most powerful moments is a look of disgust from Rook, a bottle exploding beside her head unnoticed, hand on hilt, death on her face. Her would-be blackmailer calls her “killer” and right then, right there, I believe it wholeheartedly.

While there is some back and forth between soldiers, Isola is largely bathed in silence, sold by expressive faces and a mysterious atmosphere. Another sundry the sharp mind of Fletcher delivers to us is a ton of one-sided dialogue. The royalty has no voice. There’s no shortage of folks talking to her. The language of these conversations reveal stations, from servant to mad seer to possible peer. A kind turn between new friends leads from cautious inquiry to a boop on the nose and nervous thanks. Isola is ripe with back and forth: fighting, surprises, unlikely alliances. The issue ends with its characters in a totally different state than the opening. Slow, measured steps turn out to be huge strides.

Interior page from 'Isola' #2. Art by Karl Kerschl, Msassyk and Aditya Bidikar/Image Comics

Interior page from ‘Isola’ #2. Art by Karl Kerschl, Msassyk and Aditya Bidikar/Image Comics

And then there’s Msassyk’s ever-changing, consistently delicious rainbow sherbet swirls of color. Twilight bruises to coke bottle beryl and amber, summer glade earth tones, a scarlet world of blood in the eyes. The whole spectrum runs through the prism of pages as you turn through the book.

Equally impressive is Aditya Bidikar’s lettering. Isola’s words are clear with the slightest spring in their curves, naturally bold, the boughs that grow from the tree, the body of story. These measured wands stand in contrast to the dried brush that paints wordless sounds. They are the physical products of actions, the figurative runes that grace covers of books.

It’s an amazing read. Fletcher, Kerschl, Msassyk, Bidikar, each facet of the story comes together as a magic briolette. I think I may love this second issue even more than the first one. The series grows more stylized, more enigmatic, deeper, bolder, and yeah, more fun. Destined for cult classic status, Isola is as good as it gets, and it’s just getting started.

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl.

Art by Karl Kerschl and Msassyk.

Letters by Aditya Bidikar.

9.5 out of 10

Check out this three-page preview of ‘Isola’ #2, courtesy of Image Comics!