Quarterbin Follies #5: Bad Island

Quarterbin Follies #5: Bad Island

November 3, 2014 0 By Mathew D. Rhys

I have a strange relationship with Doug TenNapel. Now, we don’t go to the same barber. Our children are not in Boy Scouts together. We don’t even live in the same state, Nevertheless Doug has been a part of my life for years.

For most of us Gen-Xers, we first met Doug through his creation Earthworm Jim. Whether it was action figures or video games or the cartoon show, Jim was a fixture of the the mid ninety’s. But I do not know Doug TenNapel from Earthworm Jim—I just never got into it. I would spot the action figures on the shelf of the our local Target and think, ‘man, that’s weird,’ and that is about as much as I knew.

My first real exposure to Doug TenNapel came through girl. It was 1999, and I met this girl with blonde hair and pinwheel-eyes. She was just a nut for video games, and one of her favorite games for the Playstation a little game called Skullmonkeys. It was a freaking-sweet claymation-styled platformer with ridiculous amounts of whimsy, great character design, complex visual elements, and sweet original music; and starting with the narration, “A bad man fell from the Sky.” Wow. What else is there to say?

About a year later, I was listening through some old Five Iron Frenzy albums with a buddy of mine, and I spotted the cover for Quantity is Job 1, it emblazoned with a TenNapel skanking robot, and thought, “hey, that looks like SkullMonkeys.” “Well, yeah.” I don’t know how it was for you in 1998-1999, but out here in Western Nebraska, the Denver based Christian Ska-Punk band was a pretty big deal, and so I started to see TenNapel‘s work all over, in folks cars and on coffee tables; because, it turns out TenNapel has done art for five FIF projects!

It was another few years before I again ran into TenNapel’s creative hand in the form of the of the no-budget martial arts flick, Sockbaby, written and co-directed by the man himself. Sockbaby is in its bones a strange creature, one of those things found when wandering about on the internet at two AM that just sticks your head thereafter. Its the story of two almost average guys (a cyborg and a Funk-jistu master) on their way to grab some food who must defend the infant saviour of the Sockpeople from a passel of daemonic aliens; and honestly what is not to love. Sham Bam Bamina!

Anyway, for years and years, TenNapel’s projects have skipped across my computer’s screen, whether it was any of the stuff I mentioned above, or his webcomics like Ratfist or Nnewts, or his blog (of which April 2, 2012; May 3, 2012; and March 16 2014 are three of my faves). I have been aware of Doug TenNapel for almost 15 years, but I have never really been a FAN. His work was always something I wanted to check out ‘later’. That was before I picked up Bad Island.

Bad Island is a story about fathers and sons, about independence and duty. It’s about learning you don’t know what you think you do. In between the covers, it is really two intertwined stories. In one story we follow teenager Reese as he and his family prepare for a yachting vacation. But Reese, he does not want to go. The 16 year old young man states he simply has better things to do than waste the week with is boring family on some boring boat. And it doesn’t help, that his sister won’t shut up about her stupid pet snake. Mom and Dad put feet down, and before long, Reese is discontentedly aboard.

Things go from bad to worse, however, as a whale of a storm sends the family to parts unknown, and lands the ship crashing on the shore of a mysterious island. Now, if Robinson Crusoe had it bad, he had nothing on Reese and his family. For this island holds not only the challenges of medical and survival situations pose to the the average person, but it is also home to bizarre creatures, terrible monsters, and blood-thirtsty, human-like natives. Reese and his family’s lives hang in the balance!

Meanwhile, we are shown scenes from another story. A story from a planet long ago and far away, where there is a race of strange mountain-like beings upon whose shoulders sit cities of smaller, vulnerable citizens. These mountain people are the sworn protectors of the smaller ones, and they are empowered by those living on their shoulders to do battle for the defense against invading hostiles. Battle is drawn, and the king of the mountain people must fight for his people, and for their dependents. The king’s only son longs to be warrior like is father, but because of his youth, brashness, and lack of experience is forbidden from it. How ought a king react when his son refuses both direction and propriety, and takes force and his own hands?

TenNapel blends these two disparate tales together as few others can, speaking fairly as father and as son, and never with a voice of know-it-all superiority. He uses hardship as a potent catalyst to aid the redefinition of relationships it what becomes a thoroughly enjoyable coming of age story. And all of this with TenNaple’s distinct sense of artistic style, pacing, and his wild and creative creatures, and this is a real treat for all ages (although there is some intense peril and violence that very young ones might find a little, well, intense!)

I mentioned earlier that I hadn’t really been a ‘Fan’ of TenNapel, and while liking his stuff, I didn’t really feel I’d reached that fan level. Well, that’s changed, and I just can’t get enough, now.

Stupid Library. Why don’t you have Ghostopolis!