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posted May 24, 2011
Koyama Press, softcover, 48 pages, 2011, $5
0981690955 (ISBN10), 978098190975 (ISBN13)
In Island Brat
, Colleen Frakes collects, synthesizes and expands upon a suite of short strips she's done about her family's ten years living on McNeil Island, an isolated Washington locale long split between dueling, equally isolating roles as a corrections center and a game preserve. Frakes and her family visited the island for a closing ceremony held last March. Island Brat
gives us the highlights of that tour, several expressive drawings of places on the island, a few flashbacks to Frakes' time growing up there, and a bit of material about the author's discomfort with autobiography. It's only that last group that seems out of place. Finding out that Frakes doesn't trust memoir-style comics sets up an expectation for a significant clash of elements in the following comics pages that never quite crystallizes. Nothing about her approach to the comics as we read them seems to call into question their accuracy as she initially worries it might, and the fact that her family's one-time home provides a great hook for a story seems self-evident by the time we get a half-dozen pages into the work. It's only a few pages, but they feel wasted, particularly right up front.
The rest of the work feels like a first-rate book slightly undercooked, as if there's a significant draft or two to come. Frakes' depiction of various buildings on the island and the locale's general, natural beauty provide many of the work's most intriguing moments. She's a strong enough artist that she can include stand-alone drawings in her narratives in a way that enhances and focuses her story rather than stops it dead. The half-dozen or so humorous moments included are well-selected, sly but affectionate portraits of family dynamics. The stop and start rhythm of the pages hints at the feelings of surreality and disjointedness that must have been overwhelming on the actual tour, that notion of trying to seize on certain memories when the life force inhabiting them is long gone. The flashback sequences should have been as fully realized, but aren't: they feel like a lengthy, single, and maybe not even summary moment rather than something that matches the the more complete picture we put together in our mind's eye just watching the family walk around and interact with one another. I'd love to see another version somewhere down the line, if this becomes a place that Frakes wishes to re-visit.