A tiger and a royal guard are on a journey to a place that only exists in stories, yet it is their only hope for fixing everything that’s gone wrong. Isola throws us into a world full of magic and magical creatures, harsh landscapes, and the difficulty of balancing duty and necessity. It’s an experience that pulls the reader in, not letting go until the last page.
One of the most distinctive features of Isola is the art: the style feels very inspired by manga through use of symbols for sounds instead of words in English, as well as the use of silence and exchange of eye contact for meaning. It’s something I feel is often underrated in Western comics, and since one of the characters in Isola is a tiger, silence (and meaning through facial expression) is something of a necessity. The color choices are also fantastic, as they add to the truly fantastical feel of the world and aren’t the typical jewel tones of fantasy. Instead, it’s teals and blues against oranges and pinks, the contrast adding to the tension of each scene.
Something that many stories attempt but few succeed at is throwing the reader into the world in the middle of a situation, with little explanation; Isola succeeds. We get just enough information to keep us in the story and interested until the next piece, and the next. It helps that the protagonist is often clueless as well, so the reader isn’t kept out of every conversation, but we’re also not given huge blocks of exposition. This helps work with the art to create an atmospheric experience; the reader is drawn in by the beautiful and mysterious scenery, then kept there with just enough hints to make them want more.
Isola explores questions of morality and humanity without going too heavy-handed or heavily into darkness and gore, as many graphic novels and books of a similar vein often do. When we see a corpse or someone dies, it has impact in this story; it’s not just one more body for the pile. There are also some elements of horror, especially body horror, as the story progresses. As such, Isola is likely to appeal most to adults, with definite crossover to older teens. I feel the fact that it’s rated teen plus by Image is more likely related to the lack of extreme content rather than appeal, but it’s something to consider when collecting this title.
I have to admit, Isola is one of my new favorite series; it’s sad and beautiful and the storytelling is phenomenal, especially paired with the stunning art. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s also diverse fantasy, part of a growing trend of graphic novels that feature characters from varied backgrounds and lives. It’s perfect for readers of series like Sleepless, or people who like darker fantasy like Monstress, but want a break from the dreariness of it and other titles in that style. I’ve also heard it recommended to fans of Hayao Miyazaki, and I can see why. The second volume comes out in February 2020, so it might be worth waiting until then to start collecting this series.
Isola, vol. 1
By Karl Kerschl, Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl, MSASSYK
Image Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T+