photo & text by nacrowe
STANLEY DONWOOD's graphic novel BAD ISLAND (W.W. NORTON COMPANY, 2020) is a POIGNANT MEDITATION on the cyclical nature of life and the ENDURING capacity for the PLANET to survive and continue on unabated. it should be mentioned from the outset that there is NO TEXT throughout, only STARK, highly EXPRESSIONISTIC black-and-white graphic representations of an ISLAND and its contents over time from the ETERNAL OMNISCIENT PERSPECTIVE of the SEA. dinosaurs rise and fall as well as humans and their ability to conquer NATURE and develop TECHNOLOGY which ultimately does them in as well through POLLUTION and NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE. but the SEA rolls on and the PERSPECTIVE of the graphic novel recedes into the SEA just as the ISLAND came into view from the SEA at the outset.
i very much appreciate the MINIMALIST conceit of this graphic novel which allows the viewer to project themselves into the narrative unabated by LANGUAGE. there is a certain AUTHENTICITY and PURITY of vision by pulling everything back to its most basic elements. im always taken aback when advocates speak about the SURVIVAL of the PLANET being at stake with climate change since the EARTH will carry on regardless and ultimately heal itself after humanity, its whether life as we know it will carry on with it. essentially it is our SURVIVAL that is at stake, not the PLANET's. and from what i gather from BAD ISLAND's narrative, such is one takeaway from the graphic novel with its MYSTERIOUS PERSPECTIVE departing as it entered the narrative as some third entity unaffected by the TRIALS and TRIBULATIONS of the ISLAND's inhabitants over time. it merely passively observes and then silently carries on.
one point of interest are these ghostly sprite-looking shadow figures amongst the TREES throughout the history of the narrative, from the dinosaurs through humanity. are they harbingers of our COLLECTIVE DEMISE or eternal inhabitants likewise observing life on the ISLAND? is our PERSPECTIVE as the reader one of these likewise STILL, INAUDIBLE, UNKNOWABLE figures?
DEATH comes with being alive and humanity will ultimately END much as the dinosaurs did, but is doing such prematurely by our own hand INEVITABLE? is that the cost of our capacity to construct TECHNOLOGIES that force magnify our PHYSICAL and MORAL LIMITATIONS? i love how BAD ISLAND presents more questions than it answers, which is the mark of any COMPELLING piece of art and this WORDLESS narrative has stuck with me long after my initial consumption of it. i feel strongly that DONWOOD has presented a uniquely intriguing story that transcends LANGUAGE, culture, geography and political persuasion. this should be required reading for everyone and most definitely is worth checking out.