5 Takes on Island #1
Ed. Brandon Graham
How do you decide who reviews a comic when half your staff is reading it? You open a Google Doc and make it first come, first served.
What are your overall impressions of Island #1? Was it a successful first issue?
Kat Overland: It depends on the definition of a successful first issue—if it was meant to entice me into subscribing to more issues, or making me really invested in the stories it presented, I don’t think it was very successful. I don’t have a ton of experience with comics magazines (I used to read Heavy Metal on the regular and also Shounen Jump), but I was hoping for a mix of multi-issue stories and stand alones, and instead got two introductory chapters, one chapter three or chapter two, and an essay. Without standalones, and with the lack of context for Multiple Warheads, there wasn’t much pay-off to reading it.
J.A. Micheline: I already reviewed it for Comicosity, but—basically, I didn’t have a great experience with it. There were some pieces I liked—my faves were Kelly Sue’s prose piece and Graham’s meta-comic “Polaris”—but I consistently felt as though I wasn’t “in the club” or maybe more kindly, “in the target audience,” for it. I think that’s okay, since not every comic needs to appeal to everyone, but it was one of the more alienating things I’d read in a while. If first issues are meant to entice you to read more, I don’t think Island #1 really did that.
Ardo Omer: I liked Emma Rios’ “I.D.” and Kelly Sue Deconnick’s “Railbirds” prose piece, but that’s it. I bought into it for the first thirty-five pages out of the one hundred and eleven, but afterwards, I was either uninterested due to personal taste or, in the case of Multiple Warheads, confused. It wasn’t successful, sadly.
Megan Purdy: Like Kat, I’d say that it depends on how we define success. I don’t get the impression that Island hopes to draw in readers who are brand new to comics. I’d also agree with J.A. that there’s a bit of an “in club” mentality to it. I didn’t feel left out or alienated, but I can certainly see how some would. A couple of additions to future issues could turn that around—if Graham and company are interested in appealing to a wider audience, that is—including framing material and a mix of done-in-one stories and ongoings. By framing material, I mean both visual cues (literal frames on first pages, a nice full stop between stories in the form of a blank recto) and creator introductions, which make for a great reading break. Island is long; set a nice pace. Overall, I see a lot of potential in Island, but I don’t think that potential has been realized yet, save for as Ardo says in “I.D.” and “Railbirds.”
Claire Napier: Yes, I loved it. This is what I want from comics ideally! Ma-ga-zines! I liked the gimmickry of single issues-as-standard when I was trying to enter comics, but honestly they are generally a hassle and feel much too short. This is perfect—it feels relaxed, unhurried, unworried, and confident. The magazine format is an excellent template for printed material generally; you can read it all at once, or you can read some and come back later (for example, I did not feel like reading text when I got to “Railbirds,” so I’m saving it for later). But either way, all of the elements validate each other just by their association. I want to have this on paper, and carry it up a hill, and then if I’m not satisfied with the hill take it somewhere else. I hope it’s printed on cheap paper. I want the tactile experience of ephemerality, so that my opinion of this object’s value is the most important thing about the time I spend with it.
What did you think of the story choices and structure?
Kat: I think it was a bad use of a magazine structure to fill it with ongoing stories, to be frank. There’s nothing interesting or innovative about that, it limits the amount of interesting work or creators who can be featured (depending on how long each story runs, we’ll be hanging out with the same creators for at least one or two more issues), and the essay was the only interesting break in back-to-back comics, a.k.a. the only thing that differs from just reading a floppy. Maybe Island isn’t meant to be innovative, but I think more could be done to make it friendlier to the reader (don’t drop me into a story that would be richer with context that can only be found elsewhere) and more interesting as an anthology.
J.A.: This is going to sound strange, given the different creators and different styles on the project, but it felt kind of monotonous. I think that’s as much structure as it is story choice—everything was part one of something else, and everything was a comic of relatively traditional structure. The only thing that made it feel magazine-like was the addition of the prose piece. I also have questions about the choice to add a Multiple Warheads comic in with the rest of the new material. I was almost completely lost throughout it and, even if it’s said that Graham is in the “work harder” school of writing—that is, not spoon feeding you context or structure—I would counter that with, “Well, why?” I’m always into pushing the limits, messing with context, and raising storytelling to a new or different level, but I have to think that the journey is worth it. The sense I got from the Multiple Warheads comic was that it was difficult to understand for the sake of it. I’m not into difficulty for difficulty’s sake, or said in a different way, complexity for complexity’s sake. If you can say something simply, why wouldn’t you?
Ardo: I agree with what was said above. In the case of Multiple Warheads, it was weird being dropped into a story that has already started elsewhere. I expected slightly shorter comics, some standalone stories, maybe a prose piece but definitely some cool 1-2 page artwork used as a break between stories. I haven’t read a comics magazine before but I expected a more casual reading experience that will allow me to pick up any issue without the context of the one before it.
Megan: I’m of two minds regarding the Multiple Warheads inclusion. On the one hand, yes, it’s a weird decision. On the other hand, now I want to read more Multiple Warheads. Maybe I’m the target audience for Island? I don’t know. But damn if this wasn’t a multi-session issue. Long and not terribly inviting for a binge read, despite the strong start with Rios and DeConnick. It did feel, at times, like a chore, though at other times it was delightful. Here is where structural breathing space comes in: make room for it, because it will make Island a more enjoyable reading experience.
Claire: I loved them all. I thought that Multiple Warheads had some obvious could-have-cut-it-here-this-time points; in a magazine it’s nice to have shorter and longer features, and I would have appreciated chopping it into maybe three parts and spacing them around the other entires more, or saving some for later so that future issues can fit in more mini-comics. But I appreciate, REALLY appreciate, being thrown in with no idea of what’s what. Emma Rios’ section is so mysterious but I have no doubt that the voice telling the story knows all of the answers. Brandon Graham’s sections are dreamy and wandering, like strolling about in a city, which is what the characters are doing, so: perfect. All of the things with bits written on them, and panels of silly vegetables, and joke shop names, felt very nostalgic; it’s very Beano. I feel like I understand this place, and I like very much that I’m asked to just go with it. I don’t like stories that flounder, but I do like storytellers who purposefully dispense with tight, driven narratives. I find it very relaxing, and more like magic or music than fiction. The mummy vs cats comic was very unexpected and unsimilar to anything else I read and I appreciate that, too. It’s doing what it has decided to do, with no glancing sideways. My favourite part was the digression on craft from Graham at the end. More of that, please! MORE MORE MORE
Did you read the digital or physical (or both) version? What did you think of the production?
Kat: The physical Island was a delight to hold. It felt like a high-end design magazine with a nice cover and weight. I was actually surprised that only one story was in full color, rather than spot colored or black and white—I know it’s a stylistic choice for those stories, but it seems like a missed opportunity on behalf of Island to not feature work that takes full advantage of the production.
J.A.: Digital! Mine was an advance review copy so I missed out on the actual feel of the book, which I do feel I missed out on this go round. I rarely worry about that with books, but there was definitely something about Island that made me want to hold it in my hands.
Ardo: Same as J. A. Micheline.
Megan: Physical for me. Dee-lite-full. The two and spot coloured comics looked great on this paper. Holding the issue was just nice—it has a nice weight and texture—and it got loads of attention when I read it on the subway. That wrap around cover design and fat logo are subtly beautiful.
Claire: Oh, I already answered that.
More broadly, what are your hopes for magazine and anthology style comics?
Kat: I would really like something that focuses more on shorter stories, since I’m already buying serialized comics on a regular basis.
J.A.: For a magazine, I’d like to see something that had more variety, I think—in terms of inclusion of long one-shots, or quick five page comics, or some yonkoma, or something. I could have read most of the comics as standalones, so why was it important to experience them all compiled together? It’d also be great if there were some kind of theme linking them, but that’s a little harder with ongoing comics. Shounen Jump and other magazines like it manage to do this though—contain different ongoings that are different but also maybe a little bit similar in the way that the shounen genre has commonalities.
Ardo: I want more variety in length. Every single comic was pretty long and asked for a commitment which is hard to give if you’re not feeling it. Like Kat and J.A., I’d love for some quick, standalone comics sprinkled in. I want more diverse styles. I want beautiful 1-2 page spreads of artwork.
Megan: I don’t think themed issues is necessary but variety in length could only be good for Island. And honestly, as an editor, I’m more influenced in choosing pieces to appear on WWAC based on vibe than theme, so I can understand Graham’s decision to go with what feels right, or what he thinks might make for an interesting reading experience.
Claire: MORE MORE MORE! Please! Please make more and advertise them highly. Let me live my dreams. Let every person drinking a coffee in public be reading a comics magazine.
“Multiple Warheads” by Brandon Graham
Kat: Maybe knowing that this wasn’t an introduction to these characters colored my reading of this—there was plenty I liked, but I felt like I was missing something that I needed in order to “get it” fully.
Ardo: No clue what was happening. I usually don’t need or expect hand-holding but with a world as rich as Multiple Warheads, I was very lost.
J.A.: I started out interested with the dream sequence, but then I was pretty much lost in terms of what connected with what. It was the hardest to follow and probably what turned me off most about Island. I think, if I’d known that this was coming, maybe I’d have read it differently, but as it stood, it was really alienating and difficult to engage with.
Megan: I came out of it wanting to read more Multiple Warheads. It was interesting.
Claire: Backissues? Pile them onto me while the weather is hot. But even if they didn’t exist I wouldn’t mind. “Here is the thing, you’re on your own” is very, very inviting to me as a reader. And I love bombastic, hand-drawn typography.
I.D. By: Emma Ríos
Kat: I liked the ideas here, but it didn’t surge up and grab me. While body swapping and street fights seem right up my alley, the pacing of the dialogue felt stilted to me and nothing seemed fresh to me.
Ardo: I love Emma Rios’ art but there were moments where visually there was a lot happening and having different colours would have been helpful to parse out. Overall, I did enjoy it and see potential in it.
J.A.: The dialogue was sometimes a bit unnatural and the monocolor made the action a little bit difficult, but I liked the themes. I’m kind of in the same boat as Kat and Ardo—I wanted to like it and saw potential. I’d be interested in reading the next installment.
Megan: This is the story I’m most interested in checking back in on. Great work on setting the stage and introducing the characters; the art was lovely and expressive. I’m hooked.
Claire: The font! The all-red haze! This comic feels like it’s happening in my memory, and Rios has an Allred-like skill for making beautiful waifs out of literally any body.
“Railbirds” by Kelly Sue Deconnick
Ardo: This was my lifeline. It was a welcome break and really good. It was prose but I’m a prose girl. Creative non-fiction is great.
J. A.: I absolutely loved Railbirds. Pitch perfect. Everything in at just the right time hitting just the right notes and just the right way. I would’ve loved more pieces like that or more smaller prose things interspersed with the comics or something. It’s the only thing that really made it feel magazine-y!
Megan: I cried.
Claire: I’ll get to it! Kiss kiss~
“Knife-Proof Mummy” by Ludroe
Kat: I honestly felt this was the story most suited to a magazine format; it reminded me of Street Angel but cartoonier. I was intrigued enough to want to read another chapter, I liked the cats and the atmosphere.
Ardo: It wasn’t my thing but that’s okay.
J.A.: Not super memorable for me. I wanted to be into it, but at that point I was so confused by Multiple Warheads and also was never sure what was an ongoing series that I was kind of off-kilter. I thought this one was a one-shot, since none of them were really labelled, but it turns out that there’s more coming, so, um—we’ll see?
Megan: It was … okay.
Claire: Girls on skateboards should appear in more comics. Also, cats wearing hoodies; also, craggy men with soft hair. I am ready to receive more of this story.
“Polaris 1” by Brandon Graham
Ardo: The shortest comic not including the introduction. I thought it was interesting. More of that.
J.A.: This was my fave comic of the collection. It addressed things I was really interested in—perspective, things that can be done with comics that no other medium can achieve—and was also a different length from the others. It was a breath of fresh air after kind of trudging through the latter half of the magazine.
Megan: I liked “Polaris 1” a lot. It was fun and clever and the biggest hint into what Island is about. Graham “like[s] thinking about fictional spaces from all angles. All the possible views or ways you could use to show a story.” A collage of possibilities? Interesting work that grabs his attention and comes together in a—he hopes—thought-provoking reading experience? And of course it’s a platform; a chance for creators to appear in an Image book and to hopefully reach a wider audience than they would have otherwise. That, I think, is what Island is all about. But we’ll see.
Kat: I like meta-comics, and this was an interesting one. It was something that made me reflect on my own non-comics writing and the aims I have for setting a scene, which I liked. I’d be interested in more comics-on-comics.
Claire: Can we get an issue that’s entirely and only metacomics like this?