Island of the Super People. A Conversation with Kevin Shamel

There are a lot of super “heroes” in Kevin Shamel’s new book, Island of the Super People. And the permutations are endless: rock fists, swamp faces, claw hands, spiked bodies, capes, masks, big boobs, tight asses, glowing balls of super energy, giants, bug-swarms, invisibles, and plasma orbs. The list goes on and on.

But Shamel’s cornucopia of heroes started off much differently than it ended up. His original idea was simply to write a super, human story. And the distinction between “super” and “human” was implied in his initial pitch to his publisher.

“My original idea,” says the Portland-based author, “was to write a story about an anthropologist living with a superhero in an apartment.” Only later did he cede to an editorial suggestion to create an island of super primitives.

The tagline for his book is “Super Friends meets Gorillas in the Mist.” And that pretty much nails it on the head. Shamel has created an insular world that is equal parts Monster Island and Paradise Island. The super natives are a rare and mysterious bunch. They live in villages sorted by “hero” and “villain” color-code variations. Their costumes are not clothing, but part of their skin. And when they talk, speech bubbles pop out of their mouths. “They are beautiful and odd,” notes a visiting cultural anthropologist.

Of all the chiseled, perfect (and sexy) super people on the island, the most compelling of the bunch is an ill-tempered ugly recluse named Death Killer. He is such a nasty villain that his tribe has banished him to the top of Shark Tooth Mountain.

But being a super sourpuss doesn’t necessarily make you a super bad guy, says Shamel. “I wanted to explore what makes someone good or bad,” he explains. “It really depends on which way you look at things as to who’s the hero and who’s the villain.”

In the end, Death Killer “shows that villains can be heroes too,” says Shamel. “I think what I was trying to say is that we’re all heroes in our own way, as cheesy as that may sound.” He may look like a prehistoric bird/lizard monster, but Death Killer is actually a sensitive guy who is a member of the Lonely Hearts Club. While all the other super heroes spend their days juggling boulders, jumping through rings of fire, and clawing their way to the center of the earth, he is alone in his cave sculpting, painting, and drinking tea.

Death Killer is given an opportunity for redemption when a platoon of Cyber-troopers arrives on the island and asserts its collective manifest destiny. These super soldiers combine high-tension circuitry blended with next-gen weaponry and propulsion systems from the future. As one anthropologist explains, “They’re the Porsche of computer brains and the Mack truck of toughness.”

Sickened by the carnage (and inspired by a broken heart), Death Killer swoops down from his aerie to help defend his homeland. What happens next will surely delight fans of Voltron and Japanese tokusatsu movies. Shamel says he grew up watching Ultraman and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, and he couldn’t resist writing a ground-shaking giant robot dust up.

“The ending is definitely influenced by giant robot TV shows and movies,” he admits. “I love giant robots and monsters. There can never be enough of them. It was great to have that colossal battle at the end of the book. Imagining a giant Death Killer stomping around smashing a giant robot is just good, big fun.”

[Island of the Super People / By Kevin Shamel / First Printing: September 2011 / ISBN: 9781936383818]

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