Come to Isola for the breathtaking art; stay for the world building. Isola, Vol. 2 continues the story of Rook and Olwyn’s journey to the land of the dead, offering mesmerizing art and further insight into the characters we first met in Vol. 1.
Isola, Vol. 1 launched the reader into a visually captivating story with little direction. In it, the outline of a quest took shape: the tiger is the enchanted queen, Olwyn, accompanied by her young captain of the guard, Rook. Rook hopes to lead them to Isola, an undescribed, unknown place, to break the queen’s enchantment. However, as most quests are, the journey is fraught with enemies and mysterious characters who may or not be friends. Volume 2 continues story, with Rook carefully avoiding the army, who thinks their queen is missing. In their attempt to steer clear of camp, they enter a quarry where they find a superstitious community who’s children are missing. They find that the children have been stolen and turned into animals or animal–human hybrids. As Rook and Olwyn continue their journey, they find more about these troublesome kidnappings. However, in doing so, the line between reality and the supernatural becomes less distinguishable, with both of them experiencing visions and connecting with memories of the past.
The artistic partnership between Karl Kerschl and MSASSYK (Michele Assarasakorn) results in an ongoing sumptuous visual experience for the series. The artists provide characters that are diverse in appearance—with varying skin tones, body shapes, attire, and even haircuts. The story relies heavily on the shape and movement of panels to propel the story forward and create focus on specific moments of the story. When one of the primary characters is an enchanted tiger, dialogue is limited. In addition, many of the panels rely on the onomatopoeia of scratched out symbols to elicit sound. Therefore, the artists make keen use of eye contact and facial expression in all their characters, but especially so for the tiger from of Olwyn. We begin to identify when she is suspicious, afraid, or angry. In this way, the art lends itself to character building.
Much of the character building takes place through insight into feelings, as well as through visions of past memories or supernatural realms. While there is more writing in Vol. 2 than in Vol. 1, there is still not any narrative dialogue to guide the reader in a backstory or any explanation of events. Often, communication takes place through hieroglyphs and sounds, the colors and shapes of which might lend insight into meaning, but not as actual words might. However, Vol. 2 leaves the reader knowing more about the characters’ backstories, and potentially more about their futures. We see a romance building between Rook and Olwyn, one that might be tenuous as secrets of the past come to light.
Responses to this series have been fairly universal: the art is incredible, but the story is not easy to follow. Readers who want a clear plot and consistent, ongoing story development may struggle with this series. Dialogue is sparse, and the transitions between the present, past, and the supernatural are often difficult to distinguish. However, those who focus on the artwork of a piece and love the creation of a new high-fantasy world will be eager to follow this comic. Image rates it T+, but aside from occasional violence, the comic would be appealing to young teens, as well as older teens and adults.
I would recommend investing in this series. I think it will have high circulation for its art alone, even if the story can be found lacking. As mentioned in the NFNT review of Vol. 1, readers who have enjoyed Monstress or Studio Ghibli are likely to enjoy this series as well. I look forward to following the series and following Rook and Olwyn to Isola where they both can confront their dead and each other.
Isola, Vol. 2
By Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl
Art by MSASSY and Karl Kerschl
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (15+)
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Multiracial Lesbian