When I started reading graphic novels, one of the the first series I fell in love with was the Flight anthology, edited by Kazu Kibuishi. Why you ask? In large part because it introduced me to other artists, such as Erika Moen and Hope Larson, whose books and stories I could fall in love and expand my horizons with. Not only that, they created stories that were built around a central theme, in this case flight, and the artists could choose to define flight in any way they wanted. It was, for me, a fantastic concept and while I was sad when the Flight series ended, I was ecstatic to find out that they were continuing the concept with the Explorer series, which is geared toward younger readers. While I have read works by many of the artists in this series, it is still a chance to reconnect with old friends and discover new ones.
The idea behind the Explorer series is that there is an overarching theme of exploration of different ideas and worlds. This volume focuses on lost islands. Each artist defines lost islands in whatever fashion they choose; whether it is physical, mental, or something else entirely. And that’s the beauty of this series. We become explorers of not just a place, but explorers of reality that challenge us to rethink the ideas that the artists present to us. Do we agree with them? And if we do, would we want to visit that place? What would we learn from it? Questions that are not so easy to ask or answer, but ones that will leave us thinking about the stories long after we turn the pages and close the book.
In this book there are seven different stories for us to “explore” as we get our feet wet during the journey of islands and the stories are presented by a variety of master storytellers. The first thing that you notice upon opening this book are the vibrant, dreamlike colors that pop off the page and draw us in, making us want to know more. While I can’t describe every story in depth, I’ve given a brief description of each below.
The first story that we read is Jake Parker’s “Rabbit Island”, which introduces us to an island of bunnies that work hard together to make it in life. But what happens when one bunny wants to make life easier for his fellow rabbits and creates a robot that can help with chores?
Next up is Chrystin Garland’s “The Mask Dance”, an eerie tale of a strange island that is alive with music and carnival, but has a sinister purpose. Chrystin’s tale is vibrantly colored, with characters that leap off the page, and try to drag you back into their world…where dark things await.
Then we come Jason Caffoe’s “Carapace”, a story of a boy seemingly trapped on an inhospitable island with strange creatures waiting at every turn. But the ghost of a giant crab may help turn things around. And maybe…just maybe, both of them will get something out of it.
One of my favorite tales in this book is “Desert Island Playlist” by husband and wife duo Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier. A seemingly simple tale of three women–a baby, a teenager, and an old woman–stranded on an island with some items to keep them entertained. While they seem so different at first, they discover that they are connected to each other and the world around them in some unique ways.
Michel Gagne’s “Loah” is a simple tale of survival and friendship, but gorgeously illustrated with lush colors and a wonder to the design of the creatures that we see.
My absolute favorite story in this collection would have to be “Radio Adrift” by Katie and Steven Shanahan. This story is about a young mage in training who needs to hatch a pixie egg that will only open by a certain sound. The mage soon discovers that the sound is a radio station about to drift away which leads her to a story far greater than her own. Katie and Steven create a story that centers not on the young mage, but on the radio station itself and the tales that have created the world. I could see this being an absolutely fantastic standalone story, one that would keep readers entertained for days.
The last story in the collection is Kazu Kibuishi’s tale, “The Fishermen.” It tells the story of a captain looking for a giant fish, his crew, and the island they find that may sink them all. Illustrated in Kazu’s typical style, the reader won’t be able to put the book down until they know whether survival is at hand.
These seven tales have lessons to teach us all, but in fun and adventurous ways that will keep you turning the pages until the very end. All of the stories are well told, with gorgeous and lush artwork full of a creative vibrancy that can often be lacking in books for young readers. This series is perfect for ages 10 and up (due to vocabulary). I would highly recommend checking out the next volume in the series as well.