“Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir” is quite a pleasant surprise coming from indie cartoonist Colleen Frakes. I have kept up with her work which gravitates towards ethereal terrain full of whimsical creatures and mythical themes. So, to have her share about her own childhood is a treat. Frakes is another cartoonist who I can say knows her stuff. Cartooning, I think I’ve said before in one form or another, is a harsh and fickle mistress. You cannot rush the process unless you want to end up aping the current trends; and you cannot sit on something for too long. I think Frakes has cultivated a distinctive style and knows when it’s time to push the work out the door.
As the title suggests, our story takes place on a prison island. This is where the Frakes family found employment. After a number of years where careers led to a lot of moving around the Pacific Northwest, it was a welcome change to have mom and dad both finding work in the same location with a long-lasting future. Well, everything is relative. This facility no longer exists. McNeil Island in Washington state had the distinction of being the last prison island in the U.S. accessible only by sea or air. There was Alcatraz Island but that’s another story. Come to think of it, Riker’s Island is still around but it has a bridge connecting it. Hmm, San Quentin? No, that’s not even an island. Okay then, all said and done, an usual place to grow up.
Frakes weaves a fascinating look at everyday life on an island dependent upon a prison economy as it were. We observe Frakes just trying to be a kid. But you can’t even take ordering a pizza for granted. As we find out, that is just too complicated to make happen when you live on an isolated prison island! Frakes does a great job of alternating recollections from the past with a more recent family visit to the now virtually deserted island. All in all, this is a charming story that just goes to show that, no matter where you live, a family is a family. I think that Frakes has an endearing drawing style and great enthusiasm for sharing some slice-of-life observations. And she provides a positive and realistic portrait of living in close vicinity to a prison. As Frakes makes clear, the typical prisoner in a relatively low-security prison is someone paying their debt and attempting to rebuild a life.
PRISON ISLAND is a 192-page trade paperback published by Zest Books. For more details, visit Zest Books right here.