Written by Mark Russell. Art by Steve Pugh. Coloured by Chris Chuckry. Lettered by Rob Steen. Published by Ahoy Comics.
Mark Russell is one of the best satirists in comics at the moment and has had a string of excellent comics including Prez, Second Coming, and a modern take on The Flintstones. For his latest satire, he has reunited with his Flintstones collaborator artist Steve Pugh, for Billionaire Island – a comic aimed for directly at the mega-rich.
Billionaire Island speculates a bleak not-too-distant future. Due to the greed of billionaires, climate change has displaced millions and countless have been made redundant by their technology. It’s not a great place to live. To avoid the problems they’ve created the mega-rich have hidden on an exclusive artificial island out in international waters. There, they have the freedom to do whatever they want without any consequences. The comic follows a journalist and an ex-soldier who infiltrate the island so they can try and make the wealthy accountable for their actions.
The comic makes itself quite clear of its satirical intent. To begin with, it has a cover inspired by Banksy. Following that, the first page does a good job to juxtapose the world that is offered to the rich, with tropical beaches and beautiful sun, vs the rising sea levels and displacement that are offered to regular folk.
Once the differences are established, the comic delves into the exaggerated and ridiculous world of the rich. They’re shown doing all kinds of outlandishly selfish deeds from dining at a restaurant that specialises in endangered animals to locking people up in a giant hamster cage. Russell and Pugh are not afraid to use these ideas to attack the mega-rich and deliver the books’ core message – the greed of the ultra-rich cause many of society’s problems and have no remorse for it.
This divide between the rich and ordinary folk can also be seen in Chris Chuckry’s colours. The world of the billionaires is bright, using a palette that uses light tones such as pastels and soft blues. A darker or muted palette is used when everyday people are involved.
While a lot of the effects of their greed are communicated though dialogue, the comic does a lot of to casually show readers the effects too. Scenes off the island will show the effects of climate change first hand. Pugh draws plenty of establishing shots throughout, whether it be a flooded city caused by rising sea levels or a baron and dusty farm. Showing off this world does so much more than telling the reader in dialogue.
Steve Pugh is a strong storyteller through his art, which offers a detailed but clean style. This detail never feels excessive and is used for creating depth and form on the page. This allows him to work on the expressiveness of the characters, which is where it really shines. Whether it’s a smug look, shock, or delight, Pugh’s expressions elevate the dialogue and make it funnier.
If you’re looking for biting satire, then Billionaire Island is a must-read. It uses humour, both through dialogue and Pugh’s art, to aim its message straight at its target.