JUST JOSHING: Billionaire Island
“All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. The daily business of life is a corrupt comedy” The Network.
Satire is rarely done with the kind of bite this comic delivered. The art form of using humor and exaggeration to bite the nose off the obliviousness of some of the issues going on is an act I haven’t seen since the great Terry Pratchett punched me right in the gut with Sourcery. In that Discworld novel the dragon ended up beating the chosen one, and people ended up worshipping it. Yes, it was mean and cruel and all the terrible things you can possibly imagine, and yet, the fear it inspired kept people in line.
This wasn’t a serious story – it had Rincewind in it for crying out loud – but through all the humor, Pratchett made readers uncomfortable. Yes, it was entertaining and bombastic, but the truth it told was undeniable.
Perhaps a stronger example of satire is the movie The Network. It’s one of my personal favorites, as the network’s game and schemes which seemed like strange far fetched comedy came true. All of it. Hence why there is a quote at the top of this with that movie in mind.
Billionaire Island hits you with the same visceral shot in the gut that my examples swung with their own respective mallets with heartfelt glee. Recommended by a friend, I gave the book a shot. Simply put, it’s pure genius.
Billionaire Island opens up with a commercial. A swarmy, oozing with snake oil, punchable face of a salesman named Rick Canto talks about the state of the world and how being a billionaire isn’t what it used to be. The next few pages show a hilarious view of a distorted view of Canto’s narration and the state of the world in 2044. Once you go through that you get to the pitch: Freedom Unlimited aka Billionaire island has every absurd thing you can imagine. Wealth detectors, Tarantula meat, and tax havens for the excessively wealthy all available. You just have to come on down.
The comic shifts to a bedroom and a billionaire Ted Spagnola is about to be killed. We find out about the sterility virus that was being tested in Angola in the foodstuffs of the population. In spite of the victim protesting being a humanitarian, an untested product created a new ebolavirus that killed the killer’s family. The scene closes with one of those foodstuffs being used for a test sample on the billionaire.
The scene then shifts to the main character of the story in Shelly Bly, who is confronting Canto for an interview. Bly is able to ask some tough questions and seems to impress Canto, who gives her an invitation to the island. When she gets there, Canto asks her to wait in a room. When she gets there she is locked shut in what would be called the hamster cage, with people who have been there for years that had crossed Canto. Each of the other prisoners has an interesting story about how they crossed Canto. All of them oddly insane, and all observed by Canto himself, who has this cage outside his window so he can watch and talk to his prisoners for amusement.
Chapter one closes with Canto talking about how he can get away with kidnapping her, and how no one will be able to find her…except the billionaire killer who had confiscated Mr. Spagnola’s identity, and now was heading to the island.
Each preceding chapter is as over the top in satire as the previous one. It makes you laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Bly and a fellow prisoner escape in issue two, and after meeting the architect of the whole island, the other prisoner ends up going back to the hamster cage. The fact that the chairman of the board for all these billionaires is a dog that inherited a wealthy fortune is tragically hysterical. The comments about people not wanting order, or justice, or even the world to make sense. They just want someone in charge. It hits you like a brick, and you need to sit down. Mark Russell is an amazing writer and just hits you right in the guts with his humor, his irony, and more important the harshness of some of what he said. Because as funny as it is, Billionaire Island is about the end of the world and it does all come crashing down in the end. And the questions at the end are great. This is an amazing book.
I have to mention Steve Pugh’s art here. His style is reminiscent of things I’ve seen on Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan. There’s glee and a bit of mania in the majority of the characters here, whether Canto or the assassin or any of the prisoners in the hamster cage. There’s a little darkness in each of them and it comes out in wonderful ways. Pugh is an excellent storyteller, showing the irony of this crazy book in ways unapologetic and poignant. Chuckry’s colors are perfect as there’s a hint of darkness in even the brighter scenes in the book. That tinge of darkness feeds the absurd.
This story pulls no punches and is the best kind of comedy. You are thinking, and the last question of the book makes for fascinating things to think about. This book is brilliant and you should check it out if you can.
My podcast is in its second month of a broadcast. I’ve been doing interviews practically every day on my stream. If you want to join in the fun, hit the follow button on my twitch. If you want to listen, check out my latest episode, which featured last week’s drink and draw with Nikolette Jones. I’m drawing on my show with some fantastic people.
My next Book is title Lights Out. It’s written and illustrated by yours truly. More to come in the days and weeks ahead on this one. I’m updating my Patreon page if you want to support my podcast. Outside of that, I’m just doing the creative thing. Hopefully, 2021 will be a better year for us all. In the meantime, I got a lot of great comics I’ll be reviewing over the next month or so, including a book by Bill Maus. Keep shining in the dark out there, and I’ll be back before you know it.