This July sees the release of Island #1, a new and much anticipated monthly comics anthology project helmed by Brandon Graham and Emma Ríos. But Island will be a different kind of #1, containing 100-plus pages of comics, prose essays, concept designs, art and illustration spreads, and more. Graham and Ríos have created a comics project that will be home to the unfettered imaginations and whims of an array of international artists and writers, including Michael DeForge, Marian Churchland, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kate Craig, Ludroe, Simon Roy, E.K. Weaver, Farel Dalrymple, José Domingo, Fil Barlow, Gael Bertrand, Lando, Amy Clare, Lin Visel, Onta, Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean, Will Kirkby, and others.
While the serialized anthology format has traditionally struggled to find a footing in the North American and Canadian markets, Graham and Ríos are hoping to change that by offering a magazine that provides a substantial and varied comics experience, harnessing the excitement around the quality of comics being produced today. While the range of authors enlisted will likely have readers picking up issues in which their favorites are featured, the purpose of anthologies to introduce new and interesting work operating in similar creative ballparks is a facet Graham considers instrumental. “Something I think is important is the feel of the book—the scene of creators involved.” he told The A.V. Club. “I think the work has to all be something that would appeal to the same readers.” Each issue will contain chapters of comics that will run 20 to 30 pages each, which, coupled with a $6.99 price, means readers are getting a good bundle of comics in one book.
Island #1 will feature ID, a new story by Ríos, the return of Graham’s Multiple Warheads, Dagger Proof Mummy by Ludroe, a series of illustrations by Churchland, and a prose piece by Kelly Sue DeConnick. The A.V. Club spoke with Graham, Ríos, Churchland, and Ludroe about the anthology, their contributions, and their hopes for the work, and here presents exclusive excerpts from the first issue of Island, which releases on July 15 from Image Comics.
The A.V. Club: What was the impetus behind this project?
Brandon Graham: A lot of it for me was just realizing that Image was willing to back whatever I wanted to do most. Island is an attempt at making what I would be most excited to read and work on.
Emma Ríos: First I would like to clarify that it was Brandon who came up with the idea about a year and a half ago, and that I only got onboard immediately after he told me, crying of joy. On one hand I think it was nostalgia from those magazines we looked at as kids, in the ’80s, or in secondhand book stores in the ’90s: Heavy Metal, Zona 84 for me especially in Spain—even the Japanese Garo—and also to see more indy stuff in Image, or bring more people from around the world whose work we love, to show their creations in a big market like this.
What we basically wanted was a compilation of the things we truly enjoy and want to see in the shelves more often.
AVC: Can each of you tell us a little about your contribution?
Marian Churchland: Since it was a matter of doing whatever I liked, I made a set of abstract paintings. Drawing comics, your art usually has to serve the story first and your own whims second, and you can’t always let loose when you want to, particularly if you’re working on somebody else’s book. So this was my chance to claim some elbow room—though I hope I can do some more detailed illustrations in future issues—fashion designs, if I have my way.
Ludroe: Although I’ve done a few covers and pin-ups in the past, Dagger Proof Mummy is my first full-length story to be published. It was an idea I’d been working on before I was contacted about Island, and it seemed like a good fit for this book. I was talking to Brandon the other day and he was saying that the story is very “me.” So I guess even though I’m drawing mummies and beast-men and outlandish things, I still want the work feel grounded.
ER: My main collaboration so far is a story called ID that is going to be published split into two, in the first and second issues of Island. The first chapter is 24 pages and the second one 36, and it gives a glimpse into the lives of three people who are considering the body transplantation as an option to improve their happiness.
It plays with the idea of identity and with the gap between how we see ourselves and how others look at you, which in a different level, is somehow connected with how I feel trying to express my real self in a different language than my own.
The best part is that during the process I was able to talk about the whole thing with a neurologist friend, Miguel Alberte-Woodward, and speculate about brain transplants and ways to do it. For example, at the beginning I proposed someone rebuilt in an empty matrix, with stem cells and a brain map to follow the consequent programming, to which he raised an eyebrow and answered something like, “Hey Emma, you can do that with a heart, but a heart is nothing but a twisted butt,” and so on. I always dug hard sci-fi so much, even if I can only understand half of the concepts in books by [Greg] Egan or [Kim] Stanley Robinson, or those crazy pages by [Masamune] Shirow about made-up science and technology. Well, ID is the closest thing to that I was able to do in my whole life, and it felt like a blast. But as heavy as this may sound, I have to admit it’s not that the story focuses on that as a plot alone—it’s basically casual and character driven. I intended to play the characters involved as regular people and frivolize a bit with their struggling through a few jokes and stupid human behavior.
Besides the beginning of ID, in the first issue I also collaborated with my sister Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrating an incredibly touching prose piece she wrote about her friend and poet Maggie Estep who passed away last year, and I also prepared the cover for the second issue.
BG: Along with Emma, I’m putting the issues together, picking the creators whose work goes in the book and doing all the design stuff that Addison [Duke] at Image doesn’t do. Also I’m using Island as a space to run my Russian werewolf epic Multiple Warheads. And whatever else I want to write and draw.
AVC: Anthologies traditionally haven’t really caught on in the North American comics market—what made you decide upon this format?
ER: Well, I personally think it’s a good way to build, and show, a community of creators that look at comics in a similar way, and feel close to one another. Of course we are worried about the format not being affordable but, you know, it’s a gamble. Brandon and I joke from time to time about “the risk being The Life” and about being pretentious, to improve and move forward. Image is so supportive letting us do what we want and we are, somehow, responsible for trying hard.
I honestly hope people get excited and realize that, in the end, all those pages and ideas, and all the effort we are all making on the project, make the price ridiculously cheap.
L: Personally I’m excited to be a part of this anthology because at this moment there are so many interesting creators taking comics in new directions. People are trying different things and nothing is too solidified yet. It’s an exciting time to be a comic reader. As a reader I would love to have a place where I know I can find some of this new content every month. If this is interesting to us, it feels like there must be other people out there who are looking for the same thing.
BG: I think it can work. Maybe it’s stubbornness or the want to try something that I find exciting. I had to think about why I personally don’t buy most anthologies. The one I have a really warm feeling about was Heavy Metal in the era when an issue would have a full 60-ish-something page European graphic novel in it. You got a whole comic.
So that’s been an important aspect of this—20 to 45 page or longer chapters in each issue. So it’s more like a bundle of actual issues under one cover, for cheaper than what it would cost to get the same amount of comics in single issues.
AVC: It’s exciting to see the artists you’ve got onboard for Island: José Domingo, Michael DeForge, Farel Dalrymple, Kate Craig, Will Kirkby. How do you select contributors and collaborators?
ER: They are mostly friends who we admire, and that inspire us with their work.
BG: There’s a feeling for the book that I’m aiming for. But most of it is who I would be most excited to read comics by and have my work published alongside. I’m really interested in seeing how readers who don’t know a creator like DeForge or Onta will react to their work in an Image book.
AVC: Are people free to contribute whatever they want, or do they have to pitch an idea, and you work with them to come up with something?
ER: There is total freedom. The editor figure doesn’t exist beyond putting all the things together and coordinate with Image. Nobody interferes creatively speaking.
BG: I’m a big advocate of bringing in creators whose work I trust and letting them do what they do. But there’s been some conversations about the feel of the book. It’s been important to me to not live in the shadow of other magazines. I don’t want Island to be a little Heavy Metal or Raw. I’m really proud of the work we’ve managed to collect so far. Even though the creators come from many different backgrounds, it feels like something new to me.
AVC: What can we expect from the first few issues of Island?
BG: One thing we’re doing is each issue will have both a story that continues from a previous issue and an entirely new story. So #1 is my continuation of Multiple Warheads. The Kelly Sue text piece I mentioned called Railbirds. Emma is doing a story called ID about a group of characters who are given the chance to change their bodies. I think it’s one of the strongest things I’ve seen her do. Ludroe is doing a fantastic story called Dagger Proof Mummy about a mummy god and the friends who knew him as a man.
Also, in #1 I did a two-page thing called Polaris, that’s just me making a comic talking about how I think about comics storytelling. It might be an ongoing thing. I like the idea of using Island to hopefully open up conversations about this stuff. When me and Emma were first talking about it—I really was all about us making work that was us trying to push where we could go next—taking risks—and maybe being a little pretentious, although my love of dumb jokes might make that hard to do with a straight face.
Issue #2 continues Emma’s and Ludroe’s stories and introduces a story set in a future space colony whose inhabitants are living in an almost caveman tribal society, but around all this space technology. Issue #3 introduces an Amy Clare detective story. Amy draws these deadpan, almost Sanrio-cute characters. And Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward—who both did work on Prophet—do Ancestor—they show this interesting near future where so much of people’s interaction is through implants.
AVC: Can you give us an idea what the prose essays included will be about, and who they’ll be authored by?
ER: Well, they are going to be pretty diverse. For starters, Brandon is preparing a gorgeous series about comic storytelling, and Kelly Sue wrote this piece about her friend. On the second issue Miguel is writing a divulgation article, connected with ID, about what could we expect regarding the brain transplant in a near future. Claire Gibson and David Brothers will write prose pieces, and Ken Niimura, who lives and works in Japan, is considering writing something too. We also will count on Katie Lane, an amazing attorney who’s been writing essays on her blog for quite a while, to give us advice on creators’ rights and keys for negotiation.
We also have plans to prepare conversations about comics we like, even redrawing and analizing stuff here and there, and also music and movies. I even have crazy plans to interview my fencing instructor!
BG: The first issue is Kelly Sue DeConnick writing about a poet that was hugely influential on her work and in issue #2 we’ve got the scientist that Emma went to for research into her ID story. I think they’ll be prose stories as well. I’ve been talking to my friend Claire Gibson, who is working with Marian and Sloane on the Image book From Under mountains—about writing something for it.
AVC: How far along do you have issues planned? How often will they be releasing?
BG: It’ll be monthly. We’ve got 15 different stories planned—each of those from between 20 to 160 pages long. So, lots. A couple of the comics are older but haven’t been seen by most readers—like Zooniverse, a six-issue series that came out in 1986. and one of my favorite comics I’ve ever read. Fil Barlow, who made it, is re-coloring and uncensoring it for us.
I feel like the problem isn’t getting great work, it’s just organizing it all in the 112 page format.
AVC: Will the content all be sci-fi?
ER: No, not at all. There are a lot of creators that dig that stuff, but everybody can do whatever they want. Having total freedom is very important to us.
BG: I didn’t even expect it to look as sci fi heavy as it does. Some of the stuff isn’t sci-fi—Lin Visel and Gael Bertrand are both doing fantasy stories. Kate Craig did a modern mountain climbing story. And Onta did a modern-day pride parade story with animal characters—from his (mostly adult) Marty comics.
L: My story is not sci-fi. Although the setting may look vaguely modern, it’s a twisted, claustrophobic version of reality with strange creatures and metaphysical events. I think the stories in Island will continue to explore realities that are different from our own modern day world.
AVC: Island’s going to be published in an oversized magazine format—will it have a spine, glossy or matte paper, french flaps?
ER: Ah—fancy things. We wish… but as we already mentioned we’d rather set the price low and push for creators owning everything, which means we can’t allow neither thick paper, nor golden inks… In our favor I’d say it’s all about content and not just showing off. Of course, if the magazine sales are solid, we’ll try to improve all these small details we dearly fetishize.
BG: It’ll be about an inch larger than standard comics. I think we were still figuring out the binding, and Emma had some strong feelings on getting the right paper. I think we settled on a matte that shows off solid black well.
AVC: If you could each choose one dream person whose work you’d like to see in Island, who would it be?
MC: This is totally self-serving, and nothing to do with what would actually work well in Island, but I’d want to see work from my favorite contemporary poets, particularly Alice Oswald and Don Paterson.
L: I could name any of the giants of the comic world, but I would love for some completely unknown kid to come out of nowhere and blow all of our minds.
ER: Emily Carroll. We already asked her, but she is currently buried in work. I still have high hopes, though.
BG: I’d really like to get Little Thunder involved. Her work is amazing. Also, I’ve been talking to some people about the idea of translating comics articles that were originally published in other languages. I hope that works out.
AVC: Brandon, Island will see new Multiple Warheads. What’s the thinking behind making this a home for MW—were you not tempted to create something new?
BG: I feel like Warheads works better for this format than for the issues I was running it in before. It’s the kind of story I want to take a lot of side roads in. With Island I don’t have to fill 28 pages exactly every chapter—it can be whatever it needs to be. But yeah, I do want to do new work as well. I’m working on a 60ish page thing called Elephant, about a guy who lives in a walking city.