Vehlmann and Jason’s Isle of 100,000 Graves
Fantagraphic Books, May 2011
Really, how could I have walked on by a graphic novel on the new shelf with a pirate ship and the mention of 100,000 graves and not pick it up. And so I found myself in the midst of another hectic weekend of thesis work picking and reading through this particular graphic novel.
For those not familiar with the work of Jason (the illustrator/artist) and Fabien Vehlmann (writer) they do come with some renown back Europe way. Jason is well known for his previous graphic novel I Killed Adolf Hitler and his album series which includes Green Manor and Seuls. Jason, born John Arne Sæterøy in Norway, is known for his drawings of dogs, cats, birds, and other animals and making they do rather extraordinary things.
And in this the case the rather extraordinary things revolve around a Tarantino-esque tour with a lost father, a pirate ship, and an island full of torturers. The story holds that the main character known simply as ugly little girl finds a map in bottle and tries to follow in hope of finding her lost father. And it is that voyage that lands ugly little girl on an island such of torturers with a ship full of pirates. Now, it would go against the purpose of telling you about this graphic novel by telling you any more about the plot. It is rather dark and wee-bit on the violent side and because of that we’re looking at young adult and up. And there is a funny take on college-life in that belongs rather uniquely to this world. It is solid enough in its general oddness to be worth recommending for the general read.
But it’s the art that seems to work here best. It’s understated, in a relatively mild palette that does much to accentuate the general gloominess of the piece. The conversations between characters are rather restricted and tend to work well with the totality of the artwork here. Most engaging is the idea that in keeping the illustrations simple (that is lack of most every traditionally strong details such as pupils in the eyeballs, fingernails, etc.) is a connection to a more classic rendition of a tale. And classic in that violence can be implied but is so rarely illustrated in frame. Sure, this adds to the general “classy” (as opposed to “pulpy”) aspect of story but it helps to place the story itself more in line with traditional theatre of Shakespearean/Elizabethean notions of theatre. A tradition that is well embraced still today by a good many Western theatre-goers.
And on the whole, this newest graphic novel by Jason would seem to a nice addition to his already strong catalog of work and good quick read for anyone feeling the gloom or angst that many more contemporary takes on pirates or torture schools have given us.