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Island #1
Featuring Brandon Graham, Emma Rios, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Ludroe

I tend to read Image comics in trade. I like their superhero stuff, and I am so in love with Bitch Planet that I have cried reading the back cover, no lie. But I haven’t picked up any of the anthologies despite critical acclaim. Last week, Ultimate Comics sold out of e first issue of Brandon Graham’s Island, and this week, I decided to see what the fuss was about. And it was good.

The book celebrates the weird in a way that feels intentional and intelligent. It opens with a cartoon monster that looks like Brandon Graham (of the celebrated relaunch of Prophet) getting a mission from a being that is either God or the publisher. The little guy decides to make an anthology comic, and at the end, stars in an illustrated essay about the way comic books can use styles to echo a variety of artistic and literary convention but also to break those rules and push a story into a unique means of delivering an experience.

Between the intro and the closing essay are four disparate entries. My favorite was a five-page essay by Kelly Sue DeConnick, a tightly flowing examination of her life, her art, and her sobriety as they relate to a beloved friend and the horse races they used to watch. It is effortlessly charming, vulnerable, and heartbreaking, and the sparse illustrations by Emma Rios punch up the emotional intensity.

Emma Rios also contributes a piece using her own words and art. I. D. is a science fiction work about three strangers having coffee and discussing their motivations for a body-swapping procedure. Despite the brief twenty pages allotted, Rios makes reasonably distinct characters and enough world-building to sell the concept. As anyone who’s seen her work in Marvel or Image comics knows, the art is gorgeous.

Brandon Graham contributes this odd, dreamy piece following a hip werewolf and his smuggler girlfriend through a bizarre world including a floating whale that serves as a hip brunch place or a map that includes Belize and Thank You. Wacky work like this usually turns me off, but it charmed me. Maybe that’s because Graham had a consistency beneath his experimentation, and maybe it’s because each flip in style seemed intentional instead of the unfettered rambling I see in some indie work at conventions. I would not read a whole series based on this vignette, but it’s one of the most arresting features in the anthology.

The final work is Ludroe’s Dagger-Proof Mummy, a tale of a skateboarder who misses her friend, not knowing he has become an indestructible mummy who fights the humanoid cats of the city. Amidst the bright linework and lovably silly images, lines like “Everything sucks now that you’re gone” and “You’ve gone and left a you-shaped hole in the city” make my heart feel like I just fell down concrete stairs. I would read ten more issues of this, and I hope future editions of Island have a continuation.

So in closing, Graham’s odd little anthology, Island, was a terrific way to enjoy a half-hour, stimulating my imagination toward the edges of the comic book experience. Head on in to Ultimate Comics and grab a copy before it sells out again.

-Matt Connor for Ultimate Comics & NCComicon