“You know, actually, it’s kinda funny. Because every time I would mention some obscure singer or band, you knew so much about them. But not right away, it was like a few minutes later. Maybe enough time to look them up on the web? Jeff, you used the same phrases about Goldfrapp as they do on Amazon.com. Busted! Oh and by the way, I fucking hate Goldfrapp.”
I’m sorry to learn that the latest issue of “Island” will be the last. Since mid-2015, editors Brandon Graham and Emma Rios have been putting out one of the most interesting comics anthologies of the 21st century: a fantastical mix of wild, free-spirited comics, a great showcase for up-and-coming talent. Island has been the real deal: a future-forward anthology offering startling new discoveries in almost every issue.
It’s been inconsistent of course, and at times maddening in its narrative vagueness or incompleteness, but also spectacular. For every piece that didn’t quite come off, there were others that will stay with me, some for their visionary image-making, some for their narrative guts, some for both.
Island was not curated with the same rigor, or consistency of craft, as famous anthologies like “Raw” or “Drawn & Quarterly” Vol. 2 or 3; certainly it wasn’t comparable to a deluxe book-length anthology like “Kramer’s Ergot.” It was a semi-monthly magazine that came out often enough to have momentum (I was always surprised when a new one came out on the heels of the previous, though it happened often enough). In that sense, it was more like “Dark Horse Presents,” but with, I think, more personality. It had a real vision.
In terms of combining frequency and vision, maybe Mome is the closest thing in recent comics? But “Island” centered on fantasy, SF, and dreamlike surrealism; it wasn’t so much in the post-underground vein of alternative comix, but instead showcased a new generation of graphic talents inspired by, among other things, the luxuriant world-building and eccentric fantasies of anime, manga, and webcomics. The vibe was closer to the old “Heavy Metal” than to any alt-comics anthology. Contributors to Island often wore their influences on their sleeve: Miyazaki, Moebius. But it was a lovely mix, and not at all predictable (it wasn’t only epic fantasy and trippy SF).
Recent issues seemed a bit, what, rushed? That is, they lacked the lovely overall packaging and editorial quirkiness of the early numbers, which had often pushed the boundary between comics and illustration with non-narrative features, opening suites of drawings, and graphic flourishes separate from “stories”: mesmerizing filler (anything but filler!) from artists like Will Kirkby, Jose Domingo, F Choo, Patrick Crotty, Ben Sears, and Xulia Vicente. Look closely at those, and sometimes stories creep out; in any case, they’re transporting and fun to look at.
There were great covers on the book too, from artists like Rios, Graham, Gael Bertrand, Amy Clare, Farel Dalrymple, and Marian Churchland.
“Island” boasted some intriguing serials, including Rios’s “I.D.,” Dalrymple’s revival of “Pop Gun War,” Grim Wilkins’s wordless epic “Miranda,” Graham’s “Multiple Warheads,” Bertand’s “A Land Called Tarot,” Simon Roy’s “Habitat,” and Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean’s superb SF tale, “Ancestor” (those last three have already been collected as books). It also included some searching queer-positive work, including Onta’s furry fantasy “Badge of Pride” and Michelle Perez and Remy Boydel’s spare and subversive series “The Pervert” (the last installment of that was incredible). And there were many strong stand-alone stories, by artists like F Choo, Michael DeForge, and Dilraj Mann (two very strong pieces from Mann, including #3’s “Queue,” a head-spinning experiment in form).
Yes, there were some muzzy, unfinished-seeming stories in the book, and some that struck me as just too derivative. It was a mixed bag. But it was a magazine on a schedule, and still it amazed. Besides, when it comes to thinking about the future of comics, I love a mixed bag. If later issues included serials that didn’t float my boat, always they included other stories that did.
I gotta say, for $8 a pop, this roughly 72 to 100-page comic magazine always delivered plenty of bang for buck.
Such a brave, quixotic experiment. I am sorry to see it go.