Avery Hill Publishing describe Patrick Wray’s debut graphic novel The Flood That Did Come as being set in “a little England drowning in its own future past” which is a fitting and rather perfect encapsulation of this charmingly peculiar eco-fable. After all, despite its near future 2036 setting, there’s a very 1950s, Ladybird book-style sensibility to its characters and their world.
Sixteen years from now the county of Kingsby has been flooded, with only a few isolated communities spared. One of these is Pennyworth, the home of two children, brother and sister Tom and Jenny. When two other youngsters, Jim and Charlotte, arrive from the nearby deluged Brook Falls they act as emissaries and announce the population of the rival location’s plan to relocate to Pennyworth, claiming a bureaucratic legal right over what had once been an offshoot of their own town. So begins a fraught struggle for geographical ownership as each side attempts to stake their claim to Pennyworth and its surroundings…
Wray’s unconventional graphic narrative sits very much in that more experimental side of Avery Hill’s output over the years – that part of their back catalogue that has given homes to books like Abe Christie’s Swear Jar or George Wylesol’s Internet Crusader. It’s an offering full of delightful contradictions. On the one hand elements of its narrative are presented in the style of an archaic children’s picture book, but its jarring moments of incongruity (the skeletal local shopkeeper for example), and long expository passages that mirror public information films of a bygone era, lend it a surreal and disquieting atmosphere. As does Wray’s frequent repetition of images and the doppelganger qualities of the school children characters. It all makes for a very middle class, anachronistic Britain, transported to a future that seems decades ahead of its sensibilities.
In that regard there’s an irony to an alternative comic that is so steeped in such a peculiarly Home Counties feel. You can almost hear the Received Pronunciation as the plucky Blyton-esque kids work to save the day while the Mayor of Brook Falls and Pennyworth school teacher Mrs.Simpson become major players in the struggle between the villages. It remains in the reader’s power to take what they will from Wray’s allegorical social commentary but its themes of socio-political and economic collapse in the wake of environmental catastrophe are disturbingly prescient given that the audience, too, is discovering the realities of living in a world where everything they had taken for granted has been so brutally ripped away from them.
The deliberate naïvety of Wray’s visual style is at fitting odds with the quiet sophistication of this bleakly humorous story. While I have done it on occasion, to call Avery Hill’s output eclectic is always an inadequate description of their publishing ethos. After eight years of covering their books they still have the capacity to surprise me with their unpredictable array of projects and publishing choices. Patrick Wray’s wittily eccentric and darkly comedic The Flood That Did Come is a timely reminder that there is no one in the UK currently providing such a diverse showcase for the widest narrative possibilities of the form as AHP are.
Patrick Wray (W/A) • Avery Hill Publishing, £8.99
Review by Andy Oliver