Bad Island by Stanley Donwood

bad island

I don’t think I’ve reviewed an entirely graphic novel here on Linda’s Book Bag before and I’d like to thank Hannah Sawyer at Penguin for sending me a copy of Stanley Donwood’s Bad Island in return for an honest review.

Bad Island will be published by Penguin imprint Hamish Hamilton on 13th February 2020 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

Bad Island

bad island

A wild seascape, a distant island, a full moon. Gradually the island grows nearer until we land on a primeval wilderness, rich in vegetation and huge, strange beasts. Time passes and things do not go well for the island. Civilization rises as towers of stone and metal and smoke, choking the undergrowth and the creatures who once moved through it. This is not a happy story and it will not have a happy ending.

Working in his distinctive, monochromatic lino-cut style, Stanley Donwood carves out a mesmerizing, stark parable on environmentalism and the history of humankind.

My Review of Bad Island

A tale told entirely in black and white woodcut style images.

I opened Bad Island and when I realised there was no text at all I thought I might struggle to engage with the book and find it impossible to review. Not a bit of it. In Bad Island Stanley Donwood has created an all too horribly familiar narrative through mesmerising images.

There is indeed a narrative in Bad Island as Stanley Donwood homes in on an island that represents the planet and takes the reader through natural evolution, including mythical beasts and dinosaurs from prehistoric man through to the industrial revolution to war and terrorism. Here, in stark and affecting black and white is what humans have done to the world. Stanley Donwood has portrayed a very disturbing message with terrifying accuracy. Bad Island left me pondering the outcome as I wondered about the end of the book. I was unsure if it was totally bleak or if, because of the repetition of three images, there is a glimmer of hope after all. Either way, Bad Island has disturbed my equilibrium and given me much to think about.

The images are incredibly effective. Some of the patterns reminded me of the visual disturbances I have experienced with a migraine. This is by no means a criticism as they represent the ‘headache’ of what we have done to the planet. Each page delivers more, the more it is viewed, so that there is a microcosm of the history of the world that made me feel uncomfortable at best and actually quite ashamed. Erupting volcanoes, storms and forest fires rage across the pages and with everything that has been happening in Australia of late, Bad Island could not be more prescient.

I picked up Bad Island thinking it wouldn’t really be for me and have been proved completely and utterly wrong. Stanley Donwood has created a narrative of the very history of humanity. He has shown in stark relief what we have done to the planet, creating emotions I wasn’t aware a series of black and white images would stir in me. I’m left saddened and ashamed and even more determined to do more to help the environment. I really recommend that you try Bad Island for yourself. It’s disturbing, moving and terrifying.

About Stanley Donwood

stanley donwood

Stanley Donwood is the pen name of English artist and writer Dan Rickwood. Stanley is a graphic designer, artist and writer. He has worked with the British band Radiohead since 1994, producing the artwork for all their albums and promotional materials. He is also the author of numerous books including Catacombs of Terror!, Slowly Downward and Small Thoughts. His collaboration with Robert Macfarlane, Ness, was published in November 2019.

You can follow Stanley on Twitter @StanleyDonwood or visit his website for more information. You’ll also find him on Instagram.

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