Friday, October 5, 2012

Flood! A Novel in Pictures by Eric Drooker

Standing on the shoulders of giants
Flood! is a wordless novel composed of scratchboard illustrations by artist Eric Drooker. It continues the rich but little-known tradition of pictorial literature best exemplified by the works of expressionistic woodcut artists Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward. That Drooker has thoroughly studied the work of these great masters of the past is quite obvious. At times the homage is a little too faithful, as there are scenes here that seem as if they were lifted directly out of Ward’s Wild Pilgrimage or Madman’s Drum. Drooker makes the art form his own, however, by filtering these historic influences through the visual language of the underground comics movement that originated in the 1960s. The resulting concoction is a truly beautiful and profound work of graphic storytelling.

Though subtitled “A Novel in Pictures,” it’s unclear whether the three parts of Flood! are intended to be chapters in a novel or rather three self-contained short stories. Each features a lone male protagonist who wanders through a labyrinthine metropolis. As in the works of Ward and Masereel, this representative man struggles to survive in his oppressive urban environment, along the way encountering the hazards of poverty, unemployment, violence, incarceration, love, and lots and lots of rain. Despite the hardships, the city is not without its moments of sublime beauty. The book starts out rather gritty and realistic, then becomes more and more fanciful and whimsical—incorporating dream sequences and hallucinations—all along ambitiously broadening its scope until its subject matter encompasses no less than the end of the world itself. Both the artwork and the narrative are loaded with hidden treasures, revealing new discoveries with each rereading. Drooker is to be commended for resurrecting this lost art form and shaping it with his own unique vision. Those who appreciate skillfully crafted graphic art, either vintage or contemporary, will find much to enjoy in this latter-day classic.

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