ISOLA #1 follows Captain Rook on a dangerous journey with her cursed Queen Olwyn to Isola, the fabled land of the dead. The circumstances as to why Captain Rook and Queen Olwyn cannot return home, how Queen Olwyn becomes a tiger, and if the titular Isola even exists are some of the many mysteries of the series. Writer Brenden Fletcher (MOTOR CRUSH, GOTHAM ACADEMY) and co-writer/artist Karl Kerschl (THE ABOMINABLE CHRISTOPHER CHARLES, GOTHAM ACADEMY) are teaming up once again on a creator owned comic 33 years in the making: ISOLA, a fantasy adventure series inspired by Hayao Miyazaki films and manga. 

We spoke to the duo ahead of ISOLA #1’s release next month. We spoke about their close relationship, how the world of ISOLA was born, and what’s to come. 

A Wild Adventure Begins in the Advanced Review of ISOLA #1

ComicsVerse (CV): Thank you guys so for taking some of your time to talk with us. ISOLA #1 has a been getting a lot of buzz among my comic book reader friends who are excited about it. How are you guys feeling about it ahead of its launch?

Brenden Fletcher (BF): Man, I’m super energized by all the enthusiasm for this series. Talking to retailers, talking to fans, it really feels like people are ready for a book like ISOLA!

Karl Kerschl (KK): It’s my first Image book, which is something I’ve been dreaming about since 1992, so I’m equal parts excited and nervous. But the response so far has been amazing.

CV: The ISOLA prequel was placed in various issues of MOTOR CRUSH. Did that help create buzz going into the launch of the series? Will these prequel scenes be collected at some point?

BF: I’m not sure what the ISOLA: PROLOGUE accomplished at the time in terms of grabbing any buzz for the ongoing series we’re about to begin publishing. I think if anything it allowed us to put together a lot of information about the world and characters that we otherwise would have struggled to find a place for. I think it serves as a nice introduction to our leads, Rook and Olwyn.

KK: We’ll definitely collect all ten pages of the prologue at some point — probably in one of the collected editions. In the meantime, anyone can go and read it online at isola.ca. It’s interesting for me to look at it now because so much of it was based on early design work.

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CV: Captain Rook — the captain of the Royal Guard that protects Queen Olwyn — reminds me of Guts from the manga BERSERK in terms of appearance. What was the inspiration behind the name Rook? Was chess an intentional reference or was it coincidental?

BF: Luckily for us the word “rook” has multiple meanings that are relevant to our story but in this case, we were thinking of the bird when we named her. I’m also really into the rhythm of our protagonists’ names together — “Olwyn and Rook”. It’s musical. That’s important to me.   

ISOLA
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Karl, I understand that you stream a live drawing series called the Nature of Comics with Andy Belanger whenever you guys have time. How has streaming platforms such as Twitch and Picarto changed the way artists interact with fans?

KK: Ha ha! Andy and I have a lot of fun with that. I think of it kind of like a virtual artist alley table. We’re sketching (or usually just doing our daily work on actual pages) while chatting with viewers. It’s very process-based; most of the people watching are aspiring artists themselves and they have a lot of questions about the tools we’re using, choices we’re making on the pages, etc. I wish I’d had this kind of resource when I was starting out. All I had were the old Comic Book Greats videos hosted by Stan Lee.

CV: I understand that you guys have been friends for 33 years and that working on ISOLA is a dream come true. As creators who have such a close relationship, what is it like working together on comics? Why did you feel like now is the time to tell this story?

BF: We’ve been trying to make something like ISOLA for a couple of decades now. We used to sit around when we were kids, making up stories, drawing our characters. When we got old enough, we started to find ways in which to do this thing we loved for a living. And we almost got to do it our own way with a project we put together in our early 20s.

KK: It was called MIKI. A lot of stuff from that story ended up in GOTHAM ACADEMY and now ISOLA. Our long friendship has resulted in a creative shorthand and a complete understanding of each others’ tastes (and quirks). I think it’s a rare thing to be able to work on projects like this with your best friend and it’s not something I take for granted.

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CV: Karl, your art has a surreal, dream-like quality that feels mystical in ISOLA #1. What kind of research did you do to flesh out Brendan’s script? How did Michele Mssasyk and Aditya Bidikar come into the picture to bring the story to life?

BF: Let me just jump in and be clear that we write ISOLA together. What Karl’s working from could scarcely be called a “script” in a traditional sense. It’s a series of our notes and ideas with some dialogue plugged in that he then fleshes out on the page. The actual script doesn’t come about until the whole issue has been drawn!

KK: Yeah, our “writing” is mostly just talking stuff over at length, discussing the things that are important to the characters and how they affect (and are affected by) this world we’re creating around them. In terms of research, I looked at a lot of environment photos (and took some of my own) and pored over character designs I liked from other films and games. A lot of my process just happens on the page as I try to figure things out, but once we have a firm understanding of who the characters truly are, the rest is set decoration.

Michele (Mssasyk) worked with us on GOTHAM ACADEMY, painting backgrounds and I asked her to join us for ISOLA as soon as we started thinking about it. She brings so much to the art; we couldn’t make this book without her. And Aditya is a wonderful letterer whose work I became aware of when he joined the MOTOR CRUSH team. He’s innovative and open and collaborative and just an amazing guy to work with.

ISOLA #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Outside of creating comics, what do you guys do relax?

BF: Relax? What’s that?! Hahaha! But no, for real, I don’t really give myself much down time. I used to play music to relax. I mostly just spend time with my wife and cats now, watching the occasional movie.

KK: A lot of meditation! I’ll also indulge in video games when I have the time.

CV: I wanted to touch upon the language because it reminded me heavily of SCALES AND SCOUNDRELS’ ancient languages. What was the inspiration behind the language in the story?

KK: With a few exceptions, I’ve never really liked the look of English sound effects. Just the shape of our letters. I much prefer the effects used in manga which are phonetic katakana. They’re sharper and visually suggest sound more effectively — so much so that you don’t need to be able to read Japanese to get the idea of what those sounds represent. The sound effects in ISOLA have no actual translation — they’re just shapes that “feel” like rumbling or scraping or thumping, etc. I like the way they look on the page and become part of the art.

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CV: On the most recent episode of the Off-Panel podcast with Rob Guillory, David Harper mentioned doing a poll a few years ago and found that the comic book industry’s biggest competition is Netflix. Why should people buy and read ISOLA #1 as opposed to binge watch a Netflix show?

BF: Well, I’m not sure I agree that Netflix is our biggest competition. I think people will read when they feel moved to read and watch TV when the spirit moves them to. If you want to read a book that makes you feel the way movies like PRINCESS MONONOKE and SPIRITED AWAY make you feel, then ISOLA might be for you!

CV: On that same episode, Rob Guillory mentioned that he keeps a sticky note by his desk as he writes and draws FARMHAND that says “There are no fans.” As creators, do you guys find that it helps to work in a vacuum away from the public or is social media important to both of you?

BF: I’ve stopped paying attention to social media for the most part. I check in, post my comics news, and attempt to answer questions from fans, retailers, and press but that’s about the extent of it these days.

KK: I’ve also abandoned most social media platforms. And I try not to really consider anyone outside of Brenden and myself when it comes to telling a story; especially a creator-owned story like this one. You have to make art as self-expression first and foremost. It has to be sincere, otherwise it’s just a product.

ISOLA #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: On a recent episode of the Down and Nerdy podcast, you guys mentioned having a love of silent panels, which ISOLA #1 does quite well. In fact, I was reminded of a 1 page silent panel in SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine that was memorable. What’s the key to creating effective silent panels? What are some of your favorite silent panel comics? 

BF: I’m a writer by profession but left my heart in art school and gravitate to images over words. To me, the best comics tell their story through the visuals or the clever juxtaposition of images and words. When given the opportunity, I’ll happily pull dialogue and narration from a page to allow the illustrator’s storytelling to do the work.

KK: If you think about it, how much of your day is spent talking? Unless you’re a salesman or something, you’re probably in your head most of the time. To me, dialogue is flavor. Ninety percent of the story is told through the characters’ body language and expressions and their reactions to things. I cringe when something is overwritten, not just in comics but in film or television or prose, too.

ISOLA #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Finally, besides ISOLA #1, what else can our readers expect to look forward to from both of you in the coming months? Is there anything else you guys want to say?

BF: My other ongoing Image Comics series MOTOR CRUSH is just wrapping its second arc. I’ve [also] got a fun story in the GHOST IN THE SHELL: GLOBAL NEURAL NETWORK collection from Kodansha, beautifully illustrated by LRNZ (GOLEM, OTOMO: A GLOBAL TRIBUTE TO THE MIND BEHIND AKIRA).

KK: I’m still (very slowly) continuing my webcomic THE ABOMINABLE CHARLES CHRISTOPHER, which you can read online for free at abominable.cc. It’s a story featuring talking animals and a silent Sasquatch and is actually part of the inspiration for ISOLA.

Want to know more about ISOLA?

ISOLA #1 releases on April 4th. Until then, you should follow Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl on Twitter for the latest updates and appearances.   

 

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