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“The tenuousness of stories”: Ray Fawkes discusses new graphic novel ‘In the Flood’

The celebrated artist/writer delves into the murky waters of marriage.

If comics writer were rock stars, Ray Fawkes would basically be David Bowie. Over a 20-plus-year career, the Toronto-based artist and writer has dazzled readers with an ever-shifting lineup of books, from the poignant and deeply experimental One Soul and the existentially-terrifying The Spectral Engine to more mainstream titles like Constantine and Batman: Eternal.

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For his latest project, Fawkes teamed up with colorist Lee Loughridge and letter Thomas Mauer for In the Flood, a brand-new ComiXology Originals. The graphic novel tells the story of the married couple Mike and Clara, who become separated following “apocalyptic rainfall” that floods their dream home. It’s a gripping and spellbinding meditation on loyalty and devotion, our connections to the natural world, and the price of romance.

We touched base with Fawkes recently to discuss the series as well as the creative process, the power of a good mystery, and his own artistic lineage. In the Flood is available now via ComiXology.

AIPT: What was the genesis for this project? Is there a single anecdote or story that you had in mind in putting this all together? What’s your best elevator pitch?

Ray Fawkes: The genesis for this project was written in my notebook almost exactly as you see it in the advertising pitch: A married couple who would give up everything to be together are separated by a mysterious flood. They must struggle to reunite, even as they realize that the elements keeping them apart are more than they seem.

AIPT: There’s some great elements here, especially with the bees and the use of magic card tricks. I think they hint at ideas of commitment and awareness, and of our larger understanding of the world. How do you decide on these sorts of “devices” (if at all)?

RF: I come to them by way of a kind of intuition — by dreaming up angles of approach to the story I’m trying to tell. It’s important to me that every element in a story be about the story, so to speak — so the bees, the cards, the rain, the willow tree, the nightclub, the house — everything is about what’s happening between Mike and Clara.

AIPT: I love Mike as the kind of unreliable narrator type, especially given how central his “voice” is to the story. Is that your way of hinting at something larger, maybe some meditation on our connection with other people or the tenuousness of stories?

RF: Absolutely, yes. Right at the start of the book, Mike tells Clara that he could deceive her if he wanted to, and she likely wouldn’t catch him. Clara, also, is often praised for the tricks she plays. The tenuousness of stories — especially the ones we tell ourselves — is very much a part of this book — so much so, that the book is arranged such that readers can shuffle the timeline and change the ending if they wish.

AIPT: So much of this story (like the flooding, among other threads) goes unexplained. Do you think that sort of thing manners, especially in comics where we are eventually told everything? Or is not knowing good?

RF: Not knowing is true to life. And puzzling out the things we do not know, dwelling on them and their mystery and, hopefully, coming to some kind of understanding (or at least consciousness) of them is essential. So it is, and so I want it to be in my stories.

AIPT: Building off that previous question, there’s so many layers of mystery threaded through the book. What is it about that sense of frustration and not knowing that makes people care? Would this be the same story for us and you if we knew more than we did throughout?

RF: How terrible would it be to know all the answers. How dull. How lively we are when there is something for us to interpret and discuss and debate. Is In the Flood happy or sad? Is there a single cause for what’s happening to Mike and Clara? I think the stories — both in print and in film — that stick with people the most are the ones that leave them with questions that they can mull over.

AIPT: How do you balance writing with art? This is clearly a book where both the story and visuals feel perfectly balanced and as if they’re almost carrying the same load (a feat not always accomplished by other books).

RF: This is a medium that tells stories with both writing and art, and honestly I believe that a comic book that doesn’t balance the two is off-kilter, failing to make full use of its advantages. Nobody succeeds all the time, but I approach every book I create with the resolution that I will make sure both story and art are essential and work to strengthen one another.

AIPT: Were there any specific reasons this “apocalypse” had to be massive rain? What about that that feels appropriate to you? Why not, say, fires or alien invaders?

RF: Two reasons, really. First, I think climate is very much on everyone’s mind right now, and it was certainly on mine when I began to think about an apocalypse for In the Flood. Second, I wanted the death this apocalypse brings to be a slow one: consuming like fire, but not violent. Not until the end. That kind of creeping doom was essential in relation to the rest of the story — this is not a book about combat. It’s book about an ongoing struggle.

AIPT: What was it like working with Lee Loughridge and Thomas Mauer? What do they bring, respectively, to the book?

RF: Working with both Lee and Thomas was an absolute pleasure. Both of them were very open to the experimental concept of the book, and both came back with touches of their own that both supported what I was going for and pushed it a little further. I couldn’t ask for better collaborators, and I hope they are as proud of the book as I am.

AIPT: There’s a certain warmth in the colors and the letters, which makes the book feel alive. Do you think that’s to offset the tone and scope of the book? Or does this not necessarily feel like a sad, borderline depressive story to you?

RF: That warmth is part of the wonderful touches they brought to the book I’m talking about. Without their addition, I’m sure the whole thing would’ve felt sadder and darker. But I’ll tell the truth: it isn’t necessarily a sad story to me. It can be a sad story — and it can be something else. It depends on how you read it, and what you think the answer to some of the mystery is.

AIPT: I love the use of Clara as a singer and Mike as a “magician.” They’re both showman/entertainers, albeit in very different and important ways. How would you describe their dynamic before someone reads the book? How important is it that we care about them as a unit compared to their separate “journeys?”

RF: Their dynamic is one of deep love, and all the pleasure and fear that can entail. Some people are happy to be devoted to one another. Some people are terrified by it. Some are both. I think readers will bring their own feelings to the story, and that will influence how much they care about the relationship between Mike and Clara, and whether or not they want to see them reunite — as well as what they will think of the ending. Or at least that’s what I hope.

AIPT: How would you place this book in the larger scheme of your bibliography? It feels experimental a la One Soul, but so much more earnest and romantic in certain ways.

RF: I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer this — I’m too close inside my own work to judge the shape of it in relationship to my bibliography. I’m always experimenting, and always trying to see what I can do with the form. Some of my books are about love. Some of them are about trying to live. Some of them are about deceit. All of them are about trying to understand something.

AIPT: Given this is a Comixology Original, was there any considerations in your writing for the digital format? Or is a comic a comic regardless of how it’s consumed?

RF: I think a comic is a comic. The only real consideration had to do with some technical realities of page layout, and frankly, I hope the adjustments to those realities are invisible to the readers.

AIPT: Perhaps compared to some of your other titles, the people and settings here look almost unnatural and physically jarring. Is that speaking toward the chaos of the flood and the larger narrative themes? Was there some larger aesthetic or inspiration in mind?

RF: Everything about this book — and any book I do — is carefully calculated to convey the feeling I’m going for in the story. In this one in particular, I wanted to underscore a feeling of dreams and dread, passion overtaking reason, and above all, illusion. Everybody loves a good magic trick. Everything in this book: the way it looks, the words chosen, and the sequence of the scenes — is a sort of magic trick. I sincerely hope people love it.

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