Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘In the Flood’

“Waves of steel hurled metal at the sky”

Ray Fawkes always does interesting comics, and In the Flood, his latest (the print version of which is by Dark Horse after it was available on ComiXology), is yet another one. Fawkes is assisted this time by Lee Loughridge coloring it and Thomas Mauer lettering it.

Like most of Fawkes’s independent work, this is very dense and unusual, and it might not be completely satisfactory to many (most?) readers. Some of the reviews on the Amazon page are a bit grumpy about it, and they’re not completely wrong. Fawkes gets some nice pull quotes from other comics professionals on the back, and they’re all very nice, but the one that comes closest to what I imagine most people would feel after reading this Al Ewing’s: “A beautiful, poetic and intricate puzzle-box of a story, and one I’ll be unlocking for some time to come.” I have a feeling many people will have to unlock this for some time to come, if the first read doesn’t put them off. Ewing is basically saying “I don’t get this,” and I suspect that many readers won’t get it. I don’t think I do, but I do have a theory about the plot, so that’s something.

The plot itself does seem simple. Mike lives in a house in the woods on top of a hill, and it’s been raining for some time and the house is about to flood (it’s an apocalyptic rainfall, apparently). His lover, Clara, left some time before, but he promised her that he would wait in the house for her, so even though the water is about to overwhelm the house, he doesn’t want to leave. In a different time period, one set in the past (it appears), Clara is a singer in a nightclub, and a younger girl who also wants to sing talks to her about performing. In another time period, set in a different part of the past (it appears), Mike and Clara are at the house (which Mike built for her), raising bees and harvesting the honey to sell. Interspersed with these longer scenes are short ones, showing only Mike’s hands (and occasionally Clara’s), as he does card tricks for Clara, who’s not terribly enthused about them. As Mike waits in the house, two men come to rescue him, but he doesn’t want to be rescued, and things get tense. In the nightclub scenes, Clara begins to get nervous about performing, and that bleeds into an anxious feeling about something going on backstage. And Mike’s card tricks get increasingly esoteric, which adds another layer of weirdness. In the end, it seems like Fawkes is saying one thing about what’s going on, but I don’t want to speculate too much because I could be very, very wrong, and I don’t want to spoil anything. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

However the book ends, leading up to it, Fawkes gives us a nice, atmospheric portrait of a couple definitely in love but definitely with some issues. Mike seems like a typical go-getter – when Clara says it would be nice to live away from civilization, he builds her the house – but he’s paranoid, and it’s not hard to imagine this spilling over into his relationship. The card trick sections get into this a tiny bit, and it’s interesting to see how the card tricks progress. In the nightclub, Clara has a panic attack, and while it’s not clear whether this is before she met Mike or not, it’s clear that when they’re together, she’s still damaged in some way. Fawkes builds the tension in these sections very well, as Mike stalks around his house trying to evade the two men who have come to get him, all the while promising Clara he’ll wait for her. Fawkes leaves it very ambiguous why Clara left in the first place, but as the book moves along, cracks appear in their “perfect” relationship, and we can begin to understand her a bit. It’s not that they’re a bad couple or either one is a bad guy, it’s just that their romance isn’t perfect, so we can get a sense of why things are unfolding as they are. It’s a creepy book, but haunting, too, as Fawkes evokes a romance that has started to curdle just a little, and what that might mean for the people in the romance.

The people on Amazon didn’t love the art, but it’s quite good. Fawkes is never going to be the slickest artist, but that’s not the point. In his black-and-white indie books, he’s much simpler in his line work because he tends to be more “writerly,” but here, he has to create moods with his art, and he does it marvelously. His art is a bit rough, sure, and his figure work is a bit stiff, but there’s not a lot of action in the book, so that doesn’t matter too much. The art is beautiful, though – evocative and eerie, matching the tone of the writing perfectly. Clara’s scenes in the nightclub are colored pink, generally, while Mike’s scenes are, naturally, blue. Fawkes uses a lot of chunky blacks to make the mood darker and scarier, while also using a lot of goauche-esque effects (as usual, I assume this is digital, but it still looks like gouache) to create jagged or wavy white lines to show the characters’ increasingly ragged states of mind or the flowing, almost peaceful water rising all around Mike. A tree image repeats throughout the book, and Fawkes uses thinner white lines to create a wavy motion to the branches. He uses a lot of rough smudging to show the world breaking down around Mike, while he uses thinner, gentler lines for the idyllic scenes when the two are tending their hives (which sections are, naturally, colored a soft yellow). Both Loughridge’s coloring and Mauer’s lettering – he uses italics to great effect – help complete the art. It’s a weird, tense book both in the writing and the art, which is nice as Fawkes is able to build the mood in both ways.

In the Flood is a mystery, sure, and one that, depending on your viewpoint, might not quite pay off, but Fawkes is more interested in evoking the feelings that come with a romance and what happens when those feelings betray us, so “what happens” isn’t as important as in some comics. Yes, the ending is a bit confusing, perhaps (although I still think I’ve sussed it out), but so what? It’s a weird romance with a lot of powerful moments. That’s not the worst way to do a comic!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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