Bad Island by Doug TenNapel

Reese’s dad is forcing his family to go on a boating trip together. This is the last thing Reese wants to do. In fact, Reese has been so upset with his family lately that he’s planning on running away. Now that his dad is dragging him on the family vacation, his plans have to be postponed.

Despite a forecast of clear skies, the sea is choppy and unfriendly. The family’s boat is wrecked, leaving Reese, his parents, and his little sister stranded on a strange island. Luckily, Reese’s father made sure they were prepared for something like this, so they have the supplies to survive, but they still need to find a way off the island. Oh, and they need to somehow avoid being killed by the strange creatures that are hunting them – creatures no one in the family has ever seen before, in real life or in pictures. Accomplishing these goals requires that the four of them work together, not such an easy task for a bickering family.

I appreciated two things most about Bad Island: the creative story and Reese’s family. The narrative is actually divided into two alternating parts. One part follows Reese and his family’s adventures on the island, and the other involves a robot-like creature, his rebellion against his own father, and a possible war against invaders. The two stories are, of course, connected. When all is revealed near the end, I was surprised and gratified by TenNapel’s bizarre and interesting explanation.

It should come as no surprise that Reese and his family do figure out how to work together to save themselves from the island’s creatures and find a way off the island. TenNapel portrays this emotional journey in a moving way, but he doesn’t hit you over the head with it. Best of all, both Reese and his father grow throughout the course of the story. Character growth shouldn’t be just the province of the young protagonist, and it’s nice to see the two contentious family members come together and grow in respect for each other.

I’ve read TenNapel’s other graphic novel for kids, Ghostopolis, and enjoyed it, although I wasn’t especially impressed. Bad Island is a distinct improvement. Ghostopolis was full of gross-out humor that didn’t necessarily add to the story. Bad Island keeps some of that humor that TenNapel (and his readers, no doubt) are so fond of, but it’s toned down slightly and seems much less random.

For example, a thread TenNapel carries throughout Bad Island involves Reese’s sister’s pet snake, which meets an unhappy end during the shipwreck and which she insists on keeping around, despite its growing stench. TenNapel very funnily illustrates this snake with exes for eyes and brown smoke around its body to illustrate the smell – but it’s not just a running gag. The snake, despite being dead, has a part to play in the story.

The art here is wonderful. It’s just the kind of art I love to see in graphic novels – firm lines, bold colors, clear facial expressions, and well-executed action full of energy. The natural environment of the island is a feast for the eyes and the various creatures pulled from TenNapel’s imagination are a delight to pore over. This is a winner.

Copy borrowed from my local library.

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