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Island: The Anthology Comics Needs [Interview]

ISLAND Magazine is masterminded by Brandon Graham & Emma Ríos, and features some of the most forward-thinking and exciting comics you'll see on shelves, along with a variety of essays, pin-ups, and more comics-centric bonus content. It returns this week with ISLAND #7 after a brief break, and Ríos and Graham break down the secret recipe they use to cook up a great anthology.

IMAGE COMICS: For the people not in the know, can you tell us a little bit about what ISLAND is and how it came to be?

EMMA RÍOS: ISLAND is an ongoing monthly magazine created to show off a scene in comics that Brandon and I both love, where all the creators invited can do what they want, own everything they do, and be fairly paid for it.

Brandon was the one who came up with the idea of ISLAND about three years ago, and I received it with sparkling shojo eyes. It totally sounded like building a safe haven in comics, a place to start, to experiment, to push yourself forward...so I didn't hesitate one bit in terms of offering myself to collaborate and help organize the magazine.

BRANDON GRAHAM: A big part of making ISLAND for me was being in a place in my career and at a publisher where I could do anything I wanted, and then trying to think up what would be the most exciting thing to work on.

Discovering new and different work is a huge part of what I love about comics, and it's also what pushes me in my own work. I approached Emma about it because I'm a huge fan of how she pushes storytelling in her work, and her attitudes about comics as art. It was like meeting my long-lost manga brother from another continent! 

So yeah, ISLAND is us trying to show the world what we both love so much about this artform in the form of a 72-page monthly magazine.

IC: Both of you have had work published in ISLAND, in addition to publishing other other people. How do you go about selecting people for the anthology?

RÍOS: Basically, it's all people we know and trust, and whose stuff we are in love with. 

Brandon and myself both have very interesting people in comics surrounding us, and we are also both pretty much into new or just not very well-known creators who are showing their stuff on the internet. As a person whose career was built between mainstream comics and small press, and never knew really where to belong, I have to admit it feels really nice to blur these barriers by bringing more independent—or even underground—creators to a mainstream publisher like Image Comics, and having their wonderful work shown to a different audience.

GRAHAM: Yup. I also always had a hard time finding where my work fit in comics. So a big part of ISLAND is making a space for that kind of other work.

I think having me in Canada & Emma in Spain helps the world comics feel of the book, and we've even got friends in Japan who are digging up work in their scenes over there. If all goes as planned, we'll have not only a manga special issue, but some really exciting new Japanese comics being published over here for the 1st time. 

IC: ISLAND #7 is out this week. What can we expect to find inside?

RÍOS: In this issue, we have a beautiful fantasy short by Kim Kirsch, and the beginning of Firebug. Firebug is a story about people, deities, and rebirth by Johnnie Christmas. Also, Robin Bougie's edgy prose is back, and so is Ancestor, by Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean, whose unexpected mind-blowing continuation is something really worth checking out. They also did the crazy cover for this issue, which is already one of my favorites.

IC: There's always someone that says anthologies don't sell in our little corner of comics. What made you want to go against that conventional wisdom and start up a new one?

RÍOS: Hm...for me, the answer would be something like "for the creators." In such a competitive market, if we can make a platform like this stand as its own title somehow, it'd allow people to create without the pressure of exposing yourself alone, and without being the only one responsible for the success of the book and its promotion. All that, of course, without losing ownership of what you produce, thanks to the wonderful policies Image has.

I think American comics suffer a lot from the monthly syndrome. With people here and there complaining about delays without giving a shit about how nuanced the art is, and willing to sacrifice creators by lightly demanding fill-ins for their favorite series without even trying to understand how indivisible teamwork should be for the sake of the books they love.

A magazine like ISLAND allows us to organize the releases, and more importantly, to have more time to develop the work without disappointing either yourself or the readers, who are still going to receive something interesting each month to read. Making this sell may be difficult, but it's definitely worth trying. 

GRAHAM: When starting ISLAND, it was really important to me to rethink what I personally like and mostly don't like about the format of anthologies. I'm a big fan of the era of HEAVY METAL when they would publish whole French trades in one issue, so you'd get fifty to sixty-some pages of one creator's work. 

That's why we try to have each chapter in ISLAND be around twenty to forty pages an issue, so it's like getting two or three whole comics under one cover. It's certainly one of the best deals, in terms of the amount of comics for the price.  Plus, we're snobs about having no ads and filling every page with something worth paying for. 

As far as it selling or not selling? Honestly, I can only try to put out work I'm excited about. 

IC: How do you put together ISLAND? Do you have a pool of work you're mixing and matching? Do you two vote on what goes where?

RÍOS: It is very casual. I've been working really hard this year in order to make MIRROR and PRETTY DEADLY happen, so Brandon is the one receiving most of the stuff at this point. When an issue is due, he checks what we have ready and we both talk about what to include to match the pages we have available. It is extremely easy to agree, honestly, as all the projects we're receiving are to die for. 

GRAHAM: Yeah, I have yet to see anything Emma has suggested that I'm not excited about. We are the same kinds of comic snob.

The hard part for me has been only having seventy-two pages an issue. There are so many amazing creators out there doing work that there might not fit into how most monthly comics on shelves work. Past that, we're not even limited to new work. In ISLAND #5, we had 18 extra pages, so I just dug around in zines I had for a small press photocopied thing that Dilraj Mann did in the United Kingdom, and emailed him about running it in ISLAND. It was the perfect way to show new readers a comic that I already knew I loved. 

IC: What kind of book do you want to ISLAND to feel like? Are you aiming for the feel of past anthologies, or something completely different?

RÍOS: I'd like it to feel weird, heh. A place where you could find classic comics mixed with underground comics mixed with more mainstream styles, with manga, bande dessinée, scientific articles, crazy touching prose, advice from attorneys...and where professionals and new creators of all ages and nationalities could feel a very similar sense of fun. If given the choice, I'd like it to become a comic utopia.

GRAHAM: In looking at comic book magazines of the past, stuff like RAW, Métal Hurlant, MAD, WEIRDO, and so on; at their height, they each had their own group of creators who were associated with them. I think it's important to create a new feeling with ISLAND of work that you can't or wouldn't see anywhere else.

There are certainly exceptions, like getting Michael DeForge in there, but I love the idea of showing work like his or Fil Barlow's to readers who might not know it.

IC: What can we look forward to in future issues of ISLAND?

RÍOS: We have a lot of wonderful stuff going on already. I'm particularly excited for what Michael DeForge and Gael Beltrand are going to do, and Simon's Habitat... I'm truly psyched about including some manga, finally.

I really want to bring more Spanish creators in, too, because the scene here is truly exciting and I would love to show more of it, like having more stuff from Jose Domingo and also Ana Galvañ, whose work is amazing.

GRAHAM: There's too much exciting work in the future of ISLAND, waugh. We've got Fil Barlow's ZOONIVERSE being reprinted for the 1st time since the '80s, and Lin Visel's BALST. She's a creator who is mostly known for her porn comics on Slipshine, and BALST shows her take on a fantasy world.

Oh, and we've got the okay to include some of George Herriman's Krazy Kat, which ran from  1913 to 1944. I think his work is a great example of timeless comics that have aged amazingly well.

I've got another forty-ish page chapter of MULTIPLE WARHEADS, and then I'm going to start a series of forty to sixty-page one-shot stories for ISLAND. The first one I'm doing is about a walking city and called Elephant.

From Johnnie Christmas's Firebug:

ISLAND #7 is available today.