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Graphic Novel Review: Bad Island by Doug TenNapel

Genre: Science Fiction, Family, Adventure
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Publication Date: August 1, 2011
ISBN-10: 0545314801
ISBN-13: 978-0545314800
Author Website: Doug TenNapel

A teenage boy, his younger sister and their parents get stranded on an inexplicable island while on a family boating trip in Bad Island, a graphic novel by Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel.

As the story opens, we are transported to “another world, another time…” where aliens are fighting for their lives against invaders. After a short sequence in which we are introduced to these odd creatures, we jump to the present day where teenage boy Reese rebels against his botanist mother and optimistic father. Little sister Janie is searching for her pet snake Pickles even as the family loads up the van for their trip. It is quickly established by TenNapel that this is a dysfunctional family where Dad wants closeness and community but that divergent interests and teenage angst keeps divided.

Hence the boating trip. Dad wants to rekindle the community the family appears to have lost. It doesn’t take long, however, for them to become stranded on a mysterious island where the flora look like Earth plants but lack their photosynthetic process (that’s the botanist mother talking) and the fauna are just plain weird. Reese and family a drawn close together over the course of the novel as they battle hostile natives and a mysterious stranger in an attempt to solve the mystery of Bad Island.

The characters in TenNapel’s novel are caricatures of the stereotypical dysfunctional family and function as such throughout the story. This leaves the heart to heart between Dad and Reese late in the novel feeling wooden. Mom and Janie are really incidental characters, used to further the plot in certain ways, but with little true depth. It is an archetypal story of children distanced from the parents who grow closer through adversity and adventure. In that sense, TenNapel is repetitive and unoriginal. The target audience of elementary school age children won’t notice, however.

The characters are simply dull. There are a few laughs to be had from the sight of hapless Dad kissing Pickles or moments of worry when Dad and Mom nearly die in a lake of acid, but for the most part there is little emotive power to the novel. The characters react so stoically to their situation, and the decisions they make lack so much logic that the it seems TenNapel wants us to be so enthused by his excellent artwork that we will excuse poor storytelling, wooden dialogue, and lack of character depth.

Young children will love the bright colors and clean lines of TenNapel’s illustrations. His drawings have the large eyes of anime coupled with the angular lines of a more American style. The art has a Spongebob Squarepants quality of simplicity that will appeal to younger kids. However, the content is often violent, very scary, and contains at least one expletive, so it is inappropriate for even older elementary children.

Bad Island is only an okay graphic novel. Some of its content and artwork is a little too old for its target audience, and its dialogue and predictability make it unappealing to an older one. TenNapel attempts to straddle the age groups and as a result fails to please either one completely. The lack of anything more than a rough outline of a story and poorly written characters that never tread beyond tropes make Bad Island a completely forgettable graphic novel.

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