Brandon Graham & Emma Rios Expand on Their Ambitious "Island"

At Image Expo 2015, Brandon Graham and Emma Rios presented plans for their ambitious comics magazine entitled "Island." Beginning in June of this year, "Island" will be a monthly Image Comics series book that collects a carefully curated capsule of work. From complete single-issue stories to prose, articles and illustrations, this exciting addition to the Image lineup packs 72-pages of diverse artists, including Marian Churchland, Helen Mair, Johnnie Christmas and Farel Dalrymple. Issue #1 features both Rios' "ID" as well as Graham's return to "Multiple Warheads."

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Rios and Graham found a quiet corner during the Expo to talk with CBR News about the project, focusing on their personal connections to the work and the challenge they hope to pose to comics readers.

CBR News: In the keynote address this morning, Eric Stephenson spoke about where he does his writing. Where does the creative process start for you?

Brandon Graham: I actually do a lot of writing in the bathtub, but that's usually just to escape the computer. Coffee shops, too. Places that I can't get distracted. I live in a neighborhood with lots of coffee shops and I've developed a system to find the most boring ones where no one cares what I'm doing and leaves me alone.

The keynote also addressed how you as creators are the future of comics. What you and Emma are doing with "Island" seems like such a celebration of the community and a way to get to a new place with comics.

Graham: Maybe it's a reaction to the type of stuff I grew up on but a really big part of it for me is the community aspect of it. That's why the creators that I'm choosing are coming from backgrounds that are different from mine. I want to pick different creators brains. There's a guy who does gay furry porn comics in there and his first story starts at a pride parade with these animal characters, which is very outside the kind of work I do. l like seeing inside other creator's brains like that.

Why is it called "Island?"

Graham: It's an analogy. What comics would you take to an island? You'd want to have a diverse group of work. You wouldn't just want to have one comic or type of comic there. There's a lot of creators I could've gotten on the book that might've sold the book better, but it was important for me to get people I was really excited about. There's nothing in there I wouldn't buy myself.

Something I don't think I mentioned on stage is that the vast majority of the work in there is single-creator work. So if a writer comes in, they'll be writing prose, which I think will be interesting. I think Kelly Sue DeConnick is going to do something. We have about thirty people, so there's a lot to rotate.

Another thing we're doing is just illustrated pieces. Every issue begins with 4-6 page series of illustrations. It's like the comic book equivalent of what magazines do with a fashion spread, we're telling illustrators that they don't have to do a story with it. They can just design robots or whatever and play around. We can do whatever we want. 
Emma Rios: It's basically a playground for everybody who is invited to work on it. We want them to have all the freedom possible to write, draw, design, make prose, whatever.

Graham: I've been pushing Emma a lot, telling her to make it more pretentious and not worry about it. Taking risks is really important. 

Rios: We've been making a lot of jokes about that.

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What are some of the risks you're taking with a project like this?

Graham: Doing comic books that don't hold the reader's hand very much, making comics that come from very different mindsets. Like in Emma's story ["I.D."], she's going very much into character. These three characters all want different bodies than the bodies they have, and it's a breakdown of the character. It doesn't give you a lot and it plays by its own rules in a very nice way.

Emma, your work on "Pretty Deadly" is definitely challenging and doesn't hold anyone's hands. Is that inspiring your story, "ID?"

Rios: Thank you.

Graham: That's kind of the idea. Having comics that make you think. For me, if I completely understand something, I don't go back to it, where if there are questions left hanging I'll keep reading.

Rios: One of the things we want to do is not giving them regular stories we are used to. In "Pretty Deadly," not everything is in the first issue; it's not explained, it's a playground for the reader. With this, it's the same thing. It's different scenes, more independent creators, more different stories and something different from when we are used to.

For example, my story is not similar at all to "Pretty Deadly." It's me thinking about stuff somehow, and it feels a bit weird. I'm putting a lot of myself there. What I'm talking about is identity. Being from Spain and having to work here, having problems with the language barrier and feeling kind of insecure about how you're seeing me. It's always something that's been eating my brain the last few years. Part of that is in that story, split into three characters that want to change their bodies. For me, being able to do such a story in that magazine is a really good chance to show myself as a full creator. It wouldn't be possible if it weren't for having such a good community to work in.

Graham: There are really fantastic people around. A lot of the people I think of as my peers aren't necessarily the people who are at the same publisher as me. I like a lot of their work and everything, but it's just very different. Something about mine and Emma's work, and the people working on the magazine, is that its work I really connect to. Bringing in people that people who buy Image books wouldn't necessarily see is great. It's a very exciting, daunting idea.

"Island" debuts this June from Image Comics.

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