REVIEW: Summer Island – A Folk Horror Myth (2022)

A Graphic Novel by

The topic of using media from an A.I. output generator to create art is definitely a hot topic in pretty much every artistic community now, where a growing debate on its use has been blowing up. There’s no lack of polarized opinions in either camp, including those that see it as no different to other once-maligned artistic mediums, to others that cannot accept anything separate from a human creator being “art”. There are many concerns about ethical use, copyright law and infringement, and what it even means to be “an artist” hanging over everything, and I feel like many have avoided actually looking at any of the completed works to see how they actually are. I found a free comic book by Steve Coulson on my Kindle recommendations that looked interesting and figured I’d give it a shot, I was skeptical about the use of A.I. but wanted to have an open mind. Summer Island – A Folk Horror Myth is that comic, and it attempts to blend a traditional folk horror plot akin to The Wicker Man and a Kaiju/giant monster property like Godzilla into one cohesive vision. What I found was oddly satisfying and a lot weirder than I expected.

” A photojournalist on assignment in a remote Scottish village discovers the townsfolk are harboring a dark secret. A folk-horror comic in the tradition of Midsommar and The Wicker Man, this 40-page debut comic by Campfire Creative Director Steve Coulson features stunning artwork generated entirely by Artificial Intelligence.”

After the main content of the book, there is a description of what the author was originally doing to create this book – using A.I. to re-conceptualize some of the themes found in the 1970’s iteration of The Wicker Man for an essay. It was then decided that the same exercise could be done top create a graphic novel. I know some might think this was easy to do, but one can tell that the author spent TONS of time cranking numerous prompts in to get the multitude of pictures that were eventually used in the graphic novel. I can only imagine it would be terrible, especially trying to replicate characters that show up more than once, for example the blond maidens. The images are eerie and haunting which is a surprise considering most A.I. programs have a rough time generating actual faces and such.

These images are then built around a narrative in which a photo-journalist has made a trip to a small Island village called Summer Island in which a yearly tradition calls for a huge festival to honor giant sea monsters. This is done in order to hopefully ward them away from the island. You see, in this world, a situation much like in Godzilla has occurred due to unregulated nuclear testing at sea, which has created the problem of huge monsters that routinely attack population centers. So far, Summer Island has not been attacked, and a cult-like religion has grown around the fact. The villagers burn a huge effigy of one such monster at the end of the book with one surprise in store that should be of no surprise to fans of folk horror, and especially The Wicker Man.

By the simple nature of this book basically being a re-telling of The Wicker Man, I did find the overall narrative lacked a lot of surprises. Basically, from the get-go, I knew what was going to happen and I feel that it was somewhat of a missed opportunity not to try and elaborate on the situation more than what was done here. The book is fairly separated from any specific character, even the main character, in so much that the narrator is more of a plot device than any sort of tangible person one can relate to. This does not mean this was bad, it simply shows that there are some limitations to a format like this, and the narrative was likely created to cover for a lot of them.

No matter what opinions one has about this work, which honestly would be no different than an artist creating something like a photo collage, this is definitely something that I would not mind getting explored more in the future, and I hope others keep a similar open mind. I see this publisher appears to have more books done in the same format, which I will try to look at at some point moving forward. It’s a novel idea that could create some completely otherworldly stuff, and since this was basically done under the keen eye of somebody using the images and the computer as a tool, rather than just letting a computer create chaos, I honestly feel like this retains the definition of what others consider “art”, which by it’s very nature is supposed to be challenged. Perhaps, in the future, one could generate a “savable” character in a system like this and re-use their parameters, that would really be something.

Overall, I went into this with nearly no expectations, and came out pleasantly surprised. More so than any other medium that has seen a slight dabbling in artificial intelligence, I feel that the visual arts have the best results so far. A comic like this is truly a successful proof of concept of what can be done if one spends the necessary time coming up with interesting ideas. I have some issues with how “safe” the story was, but even a “safe” book with no real surprises was honestly better than some professionally done comics I’ve read in recent memory. I can’t wait to see where this goes in the future.

If you are interested in this comic, click HERE. It was previously on Amazon, but with the author’s use of the fake Life Magazine cover, I have a feeling it was taken down due to copyright issues. I see the new version says “POST”.

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