Bad Island is Doug TenNapel's second graphic novel for kids, Ghostopolis being his first. TenNapel does a great job world building and creating an environment you get sucked into a few pages into his book. What I love about TenNapel's work is the way he subtly weaves themes of love and family into his action packed stories. With Bad Island we meet a family preparing for a vacation on board a boat and not everyone is happy about the trip. Teenager Reese spends his last free minutes trying to convince his parents to let him stay home alone. Mom, the botanist, is frantically trying to rig up a drip system to keep her rare orchid alive while she is gone and Janie is increasingly frantic as she tries to find her pet snake Pickles and furious as no one will help her. When the family finally makes it on board the boat they are quickly sucked up into an unanticipated storm that leaves them ship wrecked on an uncharted island. A bad island...
However, Bad Island actually begins with the words, "Another world, another time..." and shows us an alien race of giants who are trying to save a race of human-like creatures from enslavement. Despite their battle armor, the giants are no match for the enormous, viscous bug creatures that attack their homes. These creatures and their fate collide with Reese and his family thousands of years later on Bad Island. Just who is good and who is bad is the real question, though,
TenNapel uses flashbacks and moments of suspense to illustrate both the tension and the love between father and son in Bad Island in both story lines. When the family works together on Bad Island to make sense of the strange plant life, markings and creatures they encounter, they grow closer and the danger feels a bit less ever present. As noted in a review for School Library Journal, "There's a tenderness that the characters have endured and helps to round them out and make them more believeable. You actually can feel the love and strength that the family has built their foundation on since the birth of Reese." Best of all, though, is the comic relief from Janie and her stowaway pet snake Pickles, who does not survive the shipwreck.
TenNapel's creature creations are creepy and brilliant and echo some of the creations of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, especially his films Nausica and Princess Mononoke. Like Ghostopolis, Bad Island is a book that demands multiple readings. First, read for the fast paced story. Second time, read for the detailed creatures. Third time, look for clues you might have missed in the first two readings. I can't wait to see what Mr TenNapel conjures up next!