Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bad Island by Doug TenNapel

I'm more than normally concerned with the idea of good graphic novels for teens and tweens, for two very selfish reasons: my sons, aged eleven and fourteen, are reading piles of manga and graphic novels these days (not so much traditional Western-style superhero comics, though, in common with most of their generation), and I want them to have good stuff. So I keep my eyes open for books in that area, which I also (equally selfishly) read and enjoy myself.

Doug TenNapel has been doing stories "for kids" for around twenty years now: he's amassed a number of good graphic novels behind him, and, before that, he created Earthworm Jim for games and TV. I reviewed his book Ghostopolis here a little over a year ago, and liked it a lot. Bad Island was his 2011 book, and it's not quite as strong as Ghostopolis -- it gives away its secrets too early, before the reader even knows they could be secrets, and has a blander "families stick together" message.

But Bad Island is also energetic and compulsively kinetic, like all of TenNapel's work I've seen -- he does slow down for quieter dialogue scenes regularly, but the feeling of the book is of action, adventure, and excitement. It follows a typical suburban family -- mildly disaffected teenage son Reese, his kid sister Janie, and their flawed but loving parents Lyle and Karen -- as they go off for a sailing holiday to have some family time. A freak storm comes up almost immediately, and they're soon thrown onto -- yes, you guessed it! -- the title location.

Interspersed with that is the story of a battle among alien races -- actually, this story begins first, which I'd mildly complain lets TenNapel explain too much, too early, and keeps his island and its creatures from being as mysterious and creepy as they should be. Of course, as it must, that story informs and intersects with the main family story, and all the members of our family must use their strengths -- and must work together -- to get through their troubles.

Saying this isn't as good as Ghostopolis is praising it with very faint damns; Ghostopolis was a touching and surprising book with a tighter focus on two main characters and a more expansive landscape to run across, while Bad Island has to serve four main characters and their interrelationships in about fifty fewer pages. It's still a lot of fun, and I'd recommend it for people anywhere between around eight and at least my age (which is older than I'd like, not that I'll tell you exactly.)

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