by Eric Drooker
(Four Walls Eight Windows, 1992;
Dark Horse, 2002)
Originally released a decade ago, Eric Drooker's Flood! remains a simple-yet-complex masterpiece of visual storytelling. This is not a simple graphic novel that takes the form of storyboards with narration or dialogue. Instead of hearing the words in your head as you read them, you are expected to directly connect with the author's story without the language filter. This is a communication of emotions primarily through humanity's sense of sight.
The black-and-white artwork takes on a primitive quality, rekindling a collective visual memory of humanity prior to verbal communication. The description on the cover, "A Novel in Pictures," is correct. Only a few pages contain text and they are more of a story-within-a-story. Keep an eye out for self-referential background images of hieroglyphics, cave paintings and graffiti -- a nod to the past and present forms of visual communication.
Flood! is told in three chapters: "Home," "L" and "Flood." The first chapter begins as a day in the life of the protagonist, an average joe, that takes a turn for the worse. You follow his journey through major despair, minor triumphs and devastating disappointments that lead into the second chapter. The layout takes on the familiar pacing of a daily comic strip yet the content is vastly different.
In "L," the protagonist descends to the subway and further into a netherworld that may or may not be all in his head. The chapter's title takes on a multitude of meanings. It could merely be a subway symbol, a homophone for "Hell" (how paradoxical for a visual novel), Little (it is the shortest chapter), Love or Life. Note the structure of the storytelling changes from ordered orthogonal panels to jagged shapes to pure images as the character descends.
The final chapter pulls out all the stops. All the rules previously assumed in this black-and-white world are shattered, such as the occasional reversal of negative space (white ink on black pages). Our protagonist has emerged from his journey and becomes empowered through his imagination. This empowerment that shatters the preconceived boundaries of this black-and-white world is represented by the introduction of (gasp!) the color blue. The introduction of this new element creates a new vivid state of being, both in the creator and in the creation. From this point on, the story takes a multi-edged approach by tackling the past, the present, and quite possibly the future in real and abstract terms. The storytelling is quite compelling, if not disturbing.
The layout and pacing of this novel is absolutely brilliant. For example, the first chapter begins with detailed splash pages, splits to two panels per page with a little less detail, then splits (again with less detail) to four to 16 to 64 to 256 (mere stick figures) in the next-to-last page followed by a dramatic chapter-ending splash page. The progression of the story has a reverse relationship with the artistic detail that mirrors the protagonist's path. Absolutely brilliant.
The beauty of Flood! is its transcendent quality. It's already more than a decade old and it remains a poignant piece of literature, not just a graphic novel. Using merely imagery and ink, Eric Drooker offers a new perspective on perception and sets a standard for storytelling.