By Jason Karlson
Already an exciting year for comics, July is poised to be even more so as Emma Rios and Brandon Graham put on their curator hats for a brand new collaborative project for Image. Launching the sci-fi fantasy series 8house, Graham alongside Emma Rios will be bringing together a diverse range of artists, writers, and illustrators for their new anthology project, Island. At over a hundred pages an issue, and printed in an oversized European format, the new "comics magazine for comics" will feature a unique mixture comics work, illustrations, prose and fashion spreads.
Graham has always displayed a fascinating mix of influences in his own comics from graffiti art, porn comics, and both European and Japanese styles, it's fitting to see this approach applied to an entire anthology. Promising to be a 'stack of comics within a comic', it's one of those rare projects, with a real sense of "something for everyone" about it. A generous grab-bag of ideas and concepts from, among others, Gael Bertrand, Lando, Amy Clare, Michael DeForge, Kate Craig, alongside Ludroe, Jose Domingo, Johnnie Christmas, Fil Barlow, Simon Roy, E.K. Weaver, Lin Visel, also with Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean, Will Kirkby, Helen Mair, Marian Churchland (whose work will be a part of the aforementioned 8house arclight) and previous collaborator Farel Dalrymple whose work has featured in the revived Image title Prophet. With such a large pool of creators involved it's almost guaranteed to do just that as well as introducing fresh and interesting talent to even the most well-read comics fan.
Even from such a wide range of creators, with my particular interest in all things anthropomorphic I'm personally looking forward to seeing the story that Onta, known predominantly for his adult work within the furry fandom, has contributed to the series sixth issue. Having been a fan of Onta's work for many years I'm eager to see his work being introduced to a wider audience. His art style is cute, sexy and strikingly playful and I anticipate his more cheeky and tender adult work will fit in perfectly with the likes of Graham's Multiple Warheads work.
Among some of the other highlights on offer is Graham himself in the much anticipated return to the world of Multiple Warheads, after a few years absence. This time in colour, it will once again feature the exploits of Sexica and her werewolf partner, Nikoli as they forge ever onwards into their strange world. Having been inspired by his work on Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time, Graham promises to delve even deeper into the pairs' surroundings and explore the world beyond the viewpoints of the two central characters. Fellow curator Emma Rios, already a fan favorite from her groundbreaking work on Kelly Sue DeConnik's "Pretty Deadly" (also featured, contributing a prose piece no less!) is another story, that has piqued my interest. Featuring aspects of transhumanism and exploring the themes of identity and body image, ID is set around a group of individuals undergoing full body transplants and from the artwork previewed it looks gorgeous.
I managed to rope Brandon Graham into talking to Bleeding Cool about this special new project.
Brandon Graham: Yeah, certainly. One of the ways I stay excited about comics is digging around to find artists whose work excites me. On the book Prophet, I had a lot of fun digging up artists to present their work in the back. This feels like a much larger scale version of that.
There's a lot of people making comics whose work I'm amazed by and just want to show other people- look at this amazing comic! There's a couple creators in Island whose stuff I've followed for years but who haven't really done much in Print. Like Lin Visel, whose online work is some of my favourite stuff, Effort comics and her Adult work on Slipshine.
JK: Will there be returning creators between issues?
BG: Yeah, I think that's important. The idea is for every issue to have at least one returning story and one new story. So there's both a reason to catch up on the next chapter of something and get something entirely new.
BG: A big part of the creators whose work I'm putting in the book is that they gel together, there's a feeling I'm aiming for. I feel like readers who like what I do or what Emma Rios or Farel Dalrymple do will like the other work in the book.
We're even got work that influenced what I do into it. I managed to get a series from 1986 called Zooniverse that I first read when I was a kid. Fil Barlow, who made it is fixing up the pages for a new edition to run in Island. It's one of my favourite comics ever made and a think it'll be new to a vast majority of comic readers. As far as the current marketplace. I get this feeling that readers now are up for anything. Especially at Image. I keep joking that if I'm gonna try something stupid that right now at Image is the best place and time to do it.
BG: It sounds dumb, but a lot of it for me is not thinking of it as an anthology. That invokes the idea of a bunch of 5 page stories, and that's cool, but I want this to read more like a reader is getting a stack of full comics that are under one cover.
JK: Do you think anthologies like this play and important part in introducing readers to new creators, themes and artists they wouldn't have previously known about or considered?
BG: Oh yeah, I think that's a big part of my job here, to dig up interesting creators and see what they have to say. My high hopes are that it will help in the conversation about where comics can go. In the first issue I started a series of comics talking about how I think about comic storytelling. I like thinking about what you can do past basic storytelling. Also I'm really interested in seeing what happens when an Image book publishes a guy like Michael Deforge whose work is huge in the indie scene might not be known by a lot of Image readers.
BG: I think a lot of the divide might be the intent of the creators. I like the idea of letting some things not be comics. Not every great illustrator is going to do great panel to panel, and that's ok. I still wanna see what they can do.There's still storytelling in that. So far almost everything we've got in Island is made by a single creator. So when we bring in writers who don't draw– like Kelly Sue in #1. I like seeing their prose work where there's none of it being passed through another creator drawing it.
JK: You're including the work of Onta, a furry artist whose work I love by the way, did it worry you at all about people's possible knee-jerk reaction to "furry"? What drew you in particular to his work and are there any others you'd like to include in future issues of Islands?
BG: I've joked with Onta about how he's done most of his work not only in furry comics but a lot of it gay furry porn, he's not trying to get a job on X-men.
I think there's a huge value in that. He's doing the work about he's most excited about -I have faith that readers will connect with that honestly and past that he's just an amazing storyteller and illustrator. Yeah, there's a lot of great work being done in that scene that you don't often see on comic shelves.
JK: You've spoken previously about issues opening with pages of illustrations and about creators "doing what they like", do you think too many comics are too rigid or structured in terms of themes and art currently?
BG: I think it's a pretty great time for comics here in North America. That said, I think things could always be pushed farther or in different directions. I think a lot of great publishers and creators are moving in cool new directions. I love seeing what Image and Koyama and Nobrow and the like are putting out. It's a vast art form with vast potential.
JK: What are you your feelings about returning to the world of multiple warheads after a few years of being away from it?
BG: Warheads is weird for me in that it started as a porn comic a million years ago. Returning to it feels like a way of rethinking how I feel about where I'm at with my work now as opposed to where I was when I started it. I got to work on the cartoon Adventure time this year (I co-wrote/boarded Jermaine with Jesse Moynihan), and it got me thinking differently about storytelling. They do a cool trick in that series where they often go off the main story to build on the outside world. I like the idea of allowing myself that same freedom in Warheads. But yeah, I also have a lot of other comics I wanna make for Island. Much to do.
Island will be available from July 15th from Image comics.
Here's some more preview art from Island:
We know only two things for certain of Jason Karlson; that he was born on the wagon of a traveling show to Latverian parents, and that tales of his origins are wholly fictional. His writing style is pithy and insightful, with hints of oak and red berry, finished with earthy tones and somber notes. If he were to describe himself in a single word it would likely be self-deprecating. He occasionally tweets over at @marfedfolf and rambles on at marfedblog.wordpress.com.