Summer of Indie: Graphic Novel Review: Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island is a moody, humid story of the notorious French prison camp off Guyana set in the 1870. It is a rich story with a heady feel of corruption and regret.

The story is told in such a way that it feels natural to the subject matter, rather than post modern take on it. You feel it could be an adaptation of a period novel.  This, in this era of occult Nazis and winking post-modern and inevitably ‘steampunk’ historical settings, is a refreshing change.

It is written by Nikoila Jajic, drawn by Josef Cage and coloured by Raymund Lee. Cover was by Diosdado Mondero and the lettering by Peter Simeti.

The story concerns the position on the island of four ‘hunters’ – prisoners who are used by the warders to pursue escapees. Each has their own story which is told in flash back and each is a collision of the sordid and the tragic. Two of the Four are French veterans of theCrimea, a least one haunted by their service there and it was nice to see that conflict alluded to and the French contribution remembered. Their affairs are laced with real historical events but in a way which isn’t heavy handed and I suspect would be understandable even for someone unaware of the underlying history. In the first tranche of the story the writing is good with the dialogue being under-stated enough to sound natural without falling into the clichés of hard-boiled. The art has decent acting and panels are not made too busy so to obstruct the narrative.

Events unfold on the islands which lead to a man-hunt and ultimately a confrontation with the Prison authorities for the hunters. These sections have a very western feel despite the lack of six-shooters and the jungle terrain. The manhunt and resulting events have a hard-edged masculine feel that works very well. The action in this section is excellent – very dynamic with good use of silhouetted action and fight action outside of conventional panels making great use of angles.

I was going to gripe with the the ‘john wayne’ rate at which what look like muzzle loading rifles appear to be reloaded and firing. Thought may be bigger gaps between panels than I thought or stolen guns being used for each shots but I was confused and it’s a bit of bugbear with me.  However thanks to the power of wikipedia I discovered the Tabatiere breech loading rifles were converted from muzzle-loaders so I, at least can sleep easily. I suspect however that resemblance is not accidental there is a lot in the look and background of this story that suggest it has been well researched.

The story ends to a nice blow which potentially links back to an earlier image.  An alternative ending is included in the book and I think the right end was chosen.

Generally the colour palate was excellent and very moody emphasising the tropical, heavy, sweaty feel of the piece. The Guards uniforms do seem to switch between Green and blue, even in the same scene. I’m unaware of the prison guard uniforms of the Second Empire so there might be a reason for this (the colour varying depending on lighting perhaps) but it stuck out for me.

Each Chapter started with a decompressed style but this severed an introduction and within 2 pages with the storytelling is real value for money without feeling cluttered.

Overall a convincing graphic novel – I identified with the characters and was moved by their plight. The images and script worked well together. The colour pallet was sympathetic to the art and story.

GS Rating: 4/5 stars.

GS Reviewer: Clarkythecruel

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