Ink Island is about two children who fight against darkness. It tells the story of Parker and Elliot (the author’s children) who live in a lighthouse and have the duty of keeping away the disgusting, darkness-dwelling monsters.
When an attack results in Elliot being kidnapped, Parker must conquer his trepidation and travel out with his fearless, stuffed-frog companion, Williams, to mount a rescue mission on Ink Island.
Ryan K Lindsay once again demonstrates his range as a writer by tackling a theme and subject matter vastly different from his usual work. Ink Island is an all-ages romp aimed at children and parents. One can picture reading this as a goodnight story to a restless tot. Since this comic stars the author’s children, I wonder if it didn’t start out as a bedtime story for them.
The premise is at once beguilingly simple in construction yet thematically complex. A young boy and girl (with only the help of their stuffed toys) need to hold off the dark and the monsters that lurk therein. Who can’t recall the fear of the dark that permeated their early years? I’m sure most of us could only brave it with our trusty toy companion at our side. And like the story’s protagonists, we peopled it with monsters.
The creatures in Ink Island are amusing without losing their ability to frighten. Part of what makes them so scary is their use of adult language. When we were children, adults were other to us. We may have loved them but we also feared them. Their motivations and emotions were alien; their rages, elemental. Good adults were our gods — dangerous adults were our monsters.
So it makes sense that the creatures here would be erudite and alien. They are the dark shadow cast by grown-ups, the fear of what these all-powerful beings can do should they decide to torment children instead of defend them.
The protective role in the story is given to the older sibling, Parker, a young boy willing to face his fears to do the right thing. His trepidation doesn’t make him a coward, rather it renders him simply relatable. Being a hero isn’t so much about being fearless as it is about being willing to face fears. In facing them, we take the first step toward their demystification. When you strip a fear of its mask, you see that it can be ignored.
The climax of the story doesn’t rely on redemptive violence. Instead, it takes a different route in which the innocent younger sister, Elliot, plays a key role. In the end, she and her brother save each other from the dark.
The writing is a pleasure to read. Ryan K Lindsay tells a simple story without resorting to simplistic means. The tale is straight-forward enough for children to follow yet there’s enough sly meta-humor to appeal to parents. Best of all, the author doesn’t condescend to his readers. So many authors seem to feel that writing for children is an excuse to be lazy, but Lindsay proves that you can write intelligently for a young audience.
The art is marvelously comical. Craig Bruyn manages to depict the bad guys as a threat while maintaining the comic’s whimsical tone. His work is on par with that produced by many well-established publishers. In some ways, it’s better because he has a look and feel that’s uniquely his own. Using a child-friendly style, he manages to create an immersive world where you believe monsters and unexpected heroes (and heroines) could abide.
Ink Island is filled with powerful female characters, ranging from the female captain in the early pages to the little sister, Elliot. With his usual subtlety, Ryan K Lindsay shows the male and female genders as competent without resorting to obtuse statements about gender equality.
I have recently bemoaned the fact that pop culture offers young boys so few positive role models these days. I believe in equality for all genders and am pleased that we see so many empowered female characters in recent children’s movies.
However, in many cases, it’s at the expense of the male characters who are portrayed as passive, buffoonish or completely irrelevant to the plot. Their incompetence and selfishness is used to highlight the female protagonist’s strength. If seeing a strong female character can benefit children of all genders, seeing only negative male characters can harm them, especially young boys.
Therefore it was refreshing to come across a story with a heroic male protagonist. Parker is not a power fantasy — he is a young boy who faces and wins over his fears. And that’s what makes a hero.