Isle of 100,000 Graves is, in some respects, a bit of a departure for Jason, our favourite anthropomorphising cartoonist, in that narrative duties are handed over to Fabien Vehlmann, currently to be found helming the Belgian comic series Spirou. This makes for a book that is both as Jason-like as previous Jason outings at the same time as the twisty-turny plot feels, at times, a little un-Jason-like.
A young girl, Gwenny, makes her way down to the water’s edge each day to see if there are any messages in bottles. She’s done that ever since her father disappeared some years previous, having found a treasure map in a bottle. Gwenny’s mother has carried around the bitter seed of her husband’s betrayal ever since and, when Gwenny finds another treasure map, she attempts to do away with her as she sleeps – but Gwenny is a canny sort and ends up knocking her ma out with a frying pan. Resolute and determined, Gwenny hires a sort of pirate gang to take her in search of the treasure (and manages to convince a one-eyed cove to look after her for the duration of the voyage) – and it is here that Isle of 100,000 Graves takes a very peculiar turn which will bring a smile to the face of many a devoted Jason fan: the island the map leads to is actually home to a school for fledgling executioners. They toss dozens of treasure map bottles off the cliffs to lure hapless sorts in search of gold who are then ‘found guilty’ and executed in classrooms that teach everything from building fires for a funeral pyre to confessions, torture and ‘capital 201’.
As with, say, The Living and the Dead, there is a love story at the off-centre heart of Isle of 100,000 Graves (that sees the book resolve itself in a sort of ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ sort of way) but there is also a great strand that sees the development of a relationship between Gwenny and the one-eyed pirate (that recalls the relationship at the heart of Let the Right One In, in a way) which ends with one of the biggest laughs of the book. So, there are laughs, there are thrills, there is adventure and there is intrigue but best of all there is some great art. One only has to see the page where bottles are being tossed in the ocean (a frame shows an upended bottle passing a seagull, a bottle sploshing into the briny drink, a young man glumly tossing bottles one at a time, before upending his cart and sighing as our view pulls back to reveal a veritable ocean of bottles) to appreciate the charm the book has.
Any Cop?: Another terrific entry to the Jason canon.