The Islandia Journal Is a Collection of Bizarre Florida Tales

A report by Carolina del Busto for The New Times.

Adorning the cover of the first-ever print edition of the new Islandia Journal quarterly magazine is the image of an Everglades Griffin. Part lion, part alligator (because Florida), and part bird, this mythical creature is both fantastical and practical all at once.

Islandia — pronounced with or without a Spanish accent — is all about the fantastic. As the tiny print on the third page puts it, “Islandia Journal is a (sub)tropical periodical of prose, poetry, and visual art.” To put it another way, Islandia is a collection of pictures and stories about Florida and the Caribbean told through myth, folklore, history, the paranormal, and the environment.

Local writer Jason Katz launched the Caribbean-inspired journal earlier this year and released its first edition in April.

Katz has been slowly brewing the idea of starting a local zine for a handful of years. The high-school English teacher says the confinement of the pandemic was a pivotal moment.

“During the pandemic, I kind of felt this hole in my life where physical interaction with my artistic community, my writing community, used to exist,” he tells New Times. “It felt like the right time to launch a print magazine that could bring people together while not having to do it in person quite yet.”

Katz has fond memories of reading magazines as a kid and being entertained by the stories he read or the pictures he saw. His favorite element of a printed edition was the recurring features that he could look forward to in each issue.

He hopes to bring that same type of dependency and excitement with each edition of Islandia. In addition to all the art, its recurring features include a Florida book review and a series called “Cryptids of the Caribbean.”

The first edition of Islandia features work from about 20 local contributors — from artists to graphic designers to writers — sprawled over 58 pages. Readers will recognize some familiar bylines, such as poetry from O, Miami founder Scott Cunningham and a wild tale about Scottish soldier Gregor MacGregor by Nathaniel Sandler of Bookleggers. Another standout article: Susan Falco’s “Lot Lizards,” which chronicles the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll in Hialeah from the late ‘80s to today.

The zine takes its name from a very real decommissioned city off the coast of Miami that used to exist in what is now known as Biscayne National Park. It was essentially a developer’s scheme, Katz says, adding how the moniker is “a nod to the absurdity of it all and the richness of storytelling around it.”

A quick Internet search reveals plenty of other products bearing the same name: a book of poetry, a city in New York — even a novel by author Austin Tappan Wright. These are all themes that Katz hopes to explore in future issues of his Islandia Journal.

“I wanted to kind of just hop into this culture of transience. Things that are always on the move,” Katz elaborates. “In Miami, things are always coming and going. We knock things down, and we rebuild them, and a print magazine is reflective of that ephemeral culture. We have this print journal that will come, and it will go. We want to participate in South Florida’s culture of transience by creating an ephemeral print product.”

Every piece published in the journal is well-thought-out and a homage to the city that raised its founder and contributors. There’s a large map celebrating Karen Russell’s Swamplandia by Marcella May in the centerfold. Little icons of mangroves and saw-palmetto leaves are sprinkled throughout the pages.

Even the zine’s logo is pitch-perfect Miami: a machete and a banana brought together to look like the letters “I” and “J.”

“We always felt that the machete and the banana are symbolic of post-colonial Latin America and Miami,” Katz says. “The machete is used to clear the land, and then the banana is used to colonize the land.”

At the heart of Islandia is a not-so-hidden message of environmentalism and raising awareness of the factors endangering our ecosystem. One of the journal’s recurring features is the aforementioned “Cryptids of the Caribbean” series, whose inaugural episode is a tale about the mythical chickcharney, a creature resembling an owl with abnormally long legs.

“The chickcharney is a story about the Bahamas, but it’s also the story of environmentalism,” Katz explains. “I feel like the more folktales we tell about animals that used to live here, [the more] we might learn to respect the habitats and the environments these creatures live in — particularly the Everglades.”

Katz says in addition to opening submissions up for the summer issue of Islandia, he plans to develop some education programming around the zine. Artist and author talks are also in the works.

“Our goals are to print this journal four times a year but also to eventually expand into public programming and historical education,” he says. “I would like for [Islandia] to turn into a vehicle for [history and education] — not just a print magazine, but also a place where we can gather and offer educational opportunities to Florida’s arts communities as they pertain to history and myth and folklore of the region.”

The Islandia Journal Volume One is available for $15 at Sweat Records, Dale Zine, Books & Books, or via islandiajournal.com.

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