It was just a year ago that we reviewed Doug TenNapel's graphic novel Ghostopolis which was a clever, adventure in a purgatory-like world of the dead. This year TenNapel has a new graphic novel available this month — Bad Island — which is an inventive, exciting and moving adventure. It's much more science-fiction and action-adventure in tone than Ghostopolis which had sort of a noir detective feel to it.
It's hard to delve too much into the plot because you don't want to give away some great spoilers (although one can guess a lot based on the cover art). The publisher Scholatic describes it as:
When Reese is forced to go on a boating trip with his family, the last thing he expects is to be shipwrecked on an island-especially one teeming with weird plants and animals. But what starts out as simply a bad vacation turns into a terrible one, as the castaways must find a way to escape while dodging the island's dangerous inhabitants. With few resources and a mysterious entity on the hunt, each secret unlocked could save them…or spell their doom. One thing Reese knows for sure: This is one Bad Island.
Reese's conflict with his father Lyle is nicely paralled by a similar relationship between an alien father and son and helps to add some emotional depth and character arc to what is also a great exercise in world-building and action. While there really isn't a similar arc for the mother Karen and the daughter Janie, they do get enough shading to become characters you root and cheer for as well.
No matter what else TenNapel brings to a project, his inspired world-building always seems to be a prominent aspect of it. Here he has built a whole history of alien races that supports the whole concept of the at-first ultra-mysterious Bad Island and its inhabitants. This project also gives TenNapel plenty of room to exercise his visual imagination with a tremendous range of creatures inhabiting the island. I love TenNapel's art in his comics — it's definitely stylized a bit and also very kinetic which is a great match for the stories he's been telling. I really thought TenNapel did lots of neat things with the page and panel layout in this book as well — a ton of variety in the layout and great use of full page panels at key points. The coloring by Katherine Garner and Josh Kenfield is also worth highlighting. Fantastic use of different palettes for different threads of the interwoven plot and different parts of the island.
It's also interested that TenNapel inked this in Manga Studio which is a very handy program that has the best "brushes" for digital inking I've encountered. I found this video of TenNapel talking about making Bad Island that shows a lot of his digital inking work:
No question I'd recommend this book to most kids, particularly those who enjoy a more action-filled story. Like Ghostopolis, some of the images might be a little instense for really young kids (and all of the characters, kids and parents alike, are put into moments of jeopardy in this story) but both of the x-girls read it and really enjoyed it (and at some point over the last year both x-girls read Ghostopolis and also liked that one as well).