This time around, I thought I'd take a look at a family-friendly graphic novel by Doug TenNapel called Bad Island. TenNapel is a prolific artist and writer who has worked as an animator and who created one of my favorite video game characters ever—Earthworm Jim!
Reece doesn't want to go on his family vacation. He'd much rather stay at home with his friends, but his parents will not budge. His younger sister, Janie, is more focused on her lost pet, Pickles, while his parents are busy packing and getting their house ready for their absence. With his parents unwilling to be reasonable, Reece has no choice but to continue trying to get them to see how unfair they're being. Which he does even while they are standing on the dock about to board the family boat.
"Why do I have to go? It's going to be totally lame! Why can't you just be a normal dad and neglect me?"
"Because then you'd have too much fun and my job as your personal joy killer would be a failure."
On the boat, things take a turn for the worse. Despite a clear weather report, a storm rolls in and batters the little boat. If not for the courage of the fearless crew...no, no—sorry, wrong story. The boat is tossed and turned, and the family wakes up shipwrecked on an island. They rescue what they can from the boat and set up camp. Upon exploring the island, Mom—who is a botanist—notices how the flora and fauna look right, but only on the surface. Beneath, there are no roots. Worse, strange animals appear to populate the island, and someone, or something, is stalking the family. When they are attacked and separated, it's up to Reece and Janie to save their parents, and discover the secrets beneath the surface of the island....
This was a very fun and light read. It's perfect for families. There's some mild violence but nothing kids couldn't handle or parents would be uncomfortable with. The connection between Reece and the island is slow to build but the payoff for the reader is quite well-done. This is also a complete story, so no having to go out looking for volume 2 or 3—you get everything in this single volume, which is great. The relationships are well drawn and the characters three dimensional, which you don't always see in a graphic novel. You understand the family dynamics right off the bat and they feel real.
The art reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes with a shaky cam, for some reason. If Calvin grew up and had a little sister, I can totally see this being an adventure the family would have. The details here are rich. The island is lush and green, the flashbacks done in a sepia tone with splashes of color for emphasis. My only complaint would be a few of the action sequences in those flashbacks. At times, it's difficult to tell what's going on. Other than that, I've no complaints.
Available in Kindle, hardcover and softcover editions, Bad Island is a graphic novel the whole family can enjoy together.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.