Blood Song

by Eric Drooker

Published by Harcourt

304 pages, 2002




Words Fail

Reviewed by David Abrams


One does not read Eric Drooker's Blood Song any more than one listens to a silent movie. Yes, it's a graphic novel -- that fusion of art and literature which some less-enlightened folks might call a "comic book" -- but even most other graphic novels have some amount of dialogue or text guiding you through the pages.

Apart from an epigraph by Herman Melville, Blood Song is entirely free of the encumbrance of words. And so, not held down by the shackles of written language, it soars to places that other talkative tomes cannot.

Using not one shred of vowel or consonant -- just Drooker's dark, surreal artwork -- Blood Song depends entirely on facial expressions, linear perspective and a cinematic editing of images to deliver a story which speaks volumes about brutality, oppression, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love, which brings the book to a triumphant, symphonic finish.

Blood Song begins in outer space as we spiral down through the Milky Way to a planet, to a jungle, to a man fishing off a wooden dock. We follow the man home to his grass-hut village and learn he is happily married with seven adoring children and one tail-wagging black dog. The oldest daughter, along with the family hound, is sent to the river to fetch water. When she returns, she finds her village under attack by soldiers who descend from the sky in helicopters like a scene out of Apocalypse Now. The girl is spotted and she flees into the jungle, running for her life on a journey which will eventually lead her across an ocean to an urban jungle where she'll encounter even more violence and brutality, as well as love and beauty.

That's all I'm willing to tell you of Blood Song's story (and perhaps I've already said too much) because this is one book which sounds pale and bland in summary, but comes to life when experienced. And everyone should experience Blood Song. It will cost you less than the price of admission to a movie (with popcorn and drink) and will take you less than an hour to "read." What you'll get in return for your time and money is immeasurable.

At this point in an earlier draft of this review, I started to write a list of my favorite moments in the book, the images which most moved me and made me flip back and forth between pages in admiration of Drooker's clever juxtaposition. Then, when looking from my words on my computer screen to the illustrations in the book -- the starving dog chomping down on a albatross' neck, for instance -- I realized that nothing I could write would do Drooker justice. It would be like trying to describe the joys of mayonnaise without a spoonful of the stuff for you to sample. So, I hit the Delete button.

The same is true when trying to tell you how much I liked other excellent graphic novels -- Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan or Art Spiegelman's Maus, for instance. Words are almost inappropriate. They're certainly inadequate.

Drooker, whose artwork has been seen on the covers of The New Yorker and The Village Voice, is a master at creating both apocalypse and paradise with just a few strokes of the pen. His frames -- often spanning both pages -- are cast in noirish tones of black, slate blue and gray. The occasional burst of color -- a butterfly, a toucan, a plume of music rising from a saxophone -- startle and delight. There is great, muscular energy at work here on these pages and as we move through them, Blood Song unfolds like a movie told in hieroglyphics. Drooker has tapped into the roots of pure storytelling here -- the way all great tales were once told: on the walls of caves by flickering firelight before they were bogged down with words. | February 2003


David Abrams has written for Esquire, The Greensboro Review, Fish Stories and other literary magazines.


Examples of Eric Drooker's artwork and animated sequences can be found on his Web site.