Essay by Victoria Huang

Skeletons and Silhouettes: Optimism in Eric Drooker's Art

University of California, Los Angeles, Professor Paul Von Blum

March 17, 2004

Eric Drooker uses his art as visual communication, as opposed to verbal language, so his message reaches people of all ages, languages, and educational backgrounds. By refusing to conform to communicating only through words, he has already challenged people to think differently. Despite his grave subject matter, there is resounding optimism in his art.

Biography: History

Eric Drooker is greatly influenced by the community of the Lower East Side, where he grew up. Being a third generation New Yorker, his family was directly influenced by the history of the city. He was very close to his maternal grandparents, Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, who were progressive thinkers: "...of course back in the '30's, if you were Jewish or Italian, in New York City and you weren't in the Communist Party, and you weren't an anarchist, you were at least in the Socialist Party." (1) Drooker was also close to his parents, who exposed him to adult subject matter in a mature way. From his grandfather and father, he read graphic novels from Frans Masereel and underground comix of R. Crumb.

This early exposure to artistic creativity as well as progressive ideas led him to realize his artistic side. Drooker earned a scholarship to an art school in the city of New York, where he was able to live for 20 years in the Lower East Side, in a tenement by Tompkins Square Park. Although he majored in sculpture in college, his social sensitivity stirred him to self publish politically critical illustrations after he graduated. His sense of neighborhood activism enabled him to organize reluctant tenants who were exploited by their landlords and were able to demand basic utilities such as water heaters. In the early 1980s, he was arrested at age 22 for posting up fliers and thrown in lock up for several days. However, that did not stop him from distributing his own artwork in the streets. At one time, he was able to pay rent with profits from selling his own designed buttons on the streets. This street peddling of art was deemed illegal by the city council but Drooker opted for the elusive self-publishing rather than a boring 9-5 suit and tie job. Because of his frequent exposure to the streets, he often saw his friends have their musical instruments confiscated by the police, an image that is recurring in his artwork.

In 1983, when Rudolph Giuliani was appointed US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, laws became tougher on street dwellers, street artists, and street musicians. Not only were they often arrested and thrown in jail for violating irrational and petty city rules, they were also strip searched for such "crimes" as playing music. Needless to say, Drooker's portrayal of police brutality and injustice is not exaggerated in his art.

In Street Posters & Ballads, Drooker discusses briefly the history of the community in lower Manhattan, and specifically Tompkins Square Park. In 1873, residents and workers of the lower East Side organized in the park. The protest was a message for the urban authorities and businessmen that unemployed people wanted more jobs instead of charity. During this demonstration, policemen on horses forcibly broke up the unarmed demonstrators. Drooker called the Lower East Side "New York's oldest stomping ground" and a "gateway for immigrants from all over the world." (2) For decades, an eclectic mix of people and ideas thrived unmolested in the Lower East Side. The community produced and attracted famous artists in all genres such as composer George Gershwin, comedians Marx brothers, beat generation writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and folk singer Woody Guthrie. However, in the 1980s during Reaganomics when the rich became filthy rich and the poor became dirt poor, the Lower East Side became a fashionable place to live. Because of the high demand for real estate in the area, the tenants who had been living there could not afford to stay any longer. After evictions, the displaced tenants lived in the park, and caused the new apartment owners to complain. This led to a curfew in 1988 at the park, which infuriated the people, such as Drooker, who had lived by Tompkins Square Park for years. However, instead of passively accepting the loss of their neighborhood, the evicted tenants collectively mobilized and gathered for a demonstration to resist the curfew and to take back the park. Similar to the demonstration more than a hundred years ago, unsympathetic police with riot gear brutally broke up the crowd. Unlike the demonstration more than a hundred years ago, the police had leftover tanks from the Korean War. Despite the overwhelming mechanical force of the police, the spirit of the crowd was unrelenting and finally the curfew was lifted.

Drooker was personally attached to this neighborhood and empathized with the displaced tenants of the Lower East Side. Although he was not homeless or jobless, he understood that the heart of the community was being eviscerated because of real estate greed. Drooker was equally disturbed that the police--supposed peacekeepers--and lawmakers of the city were so adamant on suppressing people's freedom of assembly and speech, fundamental rights of democracy. Drooker recalls "the police just cracking people's skulls open and charging on horseback, helicopters hovering low above tenement buildings. An unforgettable, apocalyptic scene." (3) The protest did not win a favorable opinion of the police, but it demonstrated the power of a determined and passionate crowd, which Drooker captures in many of his prints.

Because of his leftist political art, Drooker was only to find work illustrating for progressive magazines at first. He illustrated covers and drew ink comics for local and radical magazines such as the Marxist Daily World, The Progressive, and the spoof pornographic Screw. For a cover of Screw, Drooker created an illustration of then President Ronald Reagan having sex with the Statue of Liberty. His work was recognized by other progressive artists such as Seth Tobocman, and contributed to and later became an editor for the journal World War 3 Illustrated, which was like a comics version of the former socialist magazine called The Masses that was shut down during World War I. High profile artists, musicians and poets also saw Drooker's talent and propelled him to illustrate their work, and his paintings even made covers of The New Yorker. Although The New Yorker a is a more mainstream and distinguished publication than Screw, the contents of the former are thought provoking and likewise Drooker's message and themes in his are not diluted. Even with his success in publishing his work, he continues to allow social activists to use his art prints on their posters.

Biography: Influences

When Drooker was a young boy, his grandfather introduced him to the works of Frans Masereel, a Belgian pacifist during World War I as well as a print artist whose bold woodcuts were both artistically and socially lauded. Masereel created several books that were wordless but conveyed more than any narration. A pacifist who greatly opposed World War I, he created many of his prints in protest of the conditions of human kind, and was also critical socially. No doubt did Masereel leave a permanent impression in style as well as themes for Eric Drooker. Stylistically, Lynd Ward's woodcut illustrations also led Drooker's wordless picture novels. Another socially and political artist that Drooker's art reflects both stylistically and thematically is Kathe Kollwitz, who further develops the artistry in woodcuts by incorporating expressionist elements in her work.

Also, as a child, Drooker was influenced by the underground comix of R. Crumb and Will Eisner who drew in comic magazines, the type of subscription that would be wrapped in brown paper. Like Eisner, Drooker drew his art themes from his life experience in the New York tenements. Although Drooker may have been fascinated by the subject matter, this early exposure to the underground comix showed that artistry and comic books were not confined to any subject matter. The crude and exaggerated stylistic influence also originates from the illustration from Dr. Seuss.

Besides contemporary artists, Drooker also cites historically prominent artists--both locally and internationally--as personally important. The Ashcan artists, although conservative in style, were progressive in subject matter and humanized the marginalized in their paintings. Other socially conscious artists had great influence. He attributes his work to many major artists. Just to name a few, Eric Drooker spews out in an interview "Brueghel, Goya, Daumier, Grosz. . .Dix, Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros." (4) Although these artists represent different parts of the world and various time periods and paint canvas and frescoes, they all draw attention to a breadth of social, economic, political and religious problems. Growing up in an environment rich with different artists explains why Drooker is concerned about so many issues.

Besides the visual arts, actors, comedians and literary behemoths influence his style and subject matter. Poets and literary behemoths, including Allen Ginsberg influenced him socially, and he was able to collaborate with him in illustrating a collection of his poems, aptly named Illuminated Poems. Within these pages, Drooker's vivid paintings and prints complement Ginsberg's stirring poetry, and vice versa.

Artwork: Prints

The perspective-changing event of Tompkins Square Park, which Drooker helped commemorates with his poster prints, inspired much of his work in Street Posters & Ballads, a collection of activist posters Drooker printed while living in Manhattan in the 80s and early 90s. He introduces his collection with a historical account of the Tompkins Square Park in the lower East Side protest in 1873. As an artistic spokesman for the ignored, Drooker had personal run-ins with the law. Drooker and other artists were not allowed to put up fliers because it was considered "graffiti" by the city. The fliers, inviting people to gather in the park, were contradictorily viewed a threat to public safety. In fact, the creation of the rule was a threat to personal liberties. This did not stop Drooker from assembling with people to play drums and sing in the park. He was arrested for the second time--a photograph of his arrest is the back cover of Street Posters & Ballads.

These personal arrests, along with the passionate protest of displaced tenants who successfully got rid of the Tompkins Square curfew, showed that the police and landlords were oppressive and insensitive, which is prevalent in many of his prints as well as his stories. Drooker's message is clear: police do not hesitate to use their batons, dogs, horses, guns, and tanks on people who sleep on sidewalks, sit on curbs, talk to a crowd, and play music on street corners. Combinations of weapons on different city goers serve as reminders that police brutality is a prevalent problem.

A print portrays police on horseback beating a crowd in a street corner. One infers that the police are supposed to restore order, but judging by the horses reared stance and baring teeth, the mounted police are creating more violence. The images of police on horseback recall the 1873 Tompkin's Square protest, but could easily be capturing a recent New York City protest as well. This print became the cover for a compact disc single for a popular 1990s rock band Rage Against the Machine. Rage Against the Machine, notorious for its politically conscious lyrics, covered the song "The Ghost of Tom Joad," originally written by Bruce Springsteen. The title of the song refers to the antihero in the Joad family, from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a novel about the hardships of the downtrodden during the dust bowl in the 1930s.

In this way, the legacy that has been passed from history to literature to music has been carried to Drooker's art.

A similar struggle for an individual's basic right to shelter occurs between desperate tenants and greedy landlords. In the 1980s, when many of the dilapidated buildings became unfit for residents, landlords would furtively destroy their own buildings or suddenly evict their tenants, which was less costly than fixing up their building. Drooker empathizes with the displaced tenants by emphasizing mothers and small children in his prints, and literally portraying landlords as gorillas and wolves. Even in the crowd, where people protest against the wolf-like housing authority, silhouettes of women, children, and baby carriages are present.

Drooker also empathizes with the oppression of women, specifically women's rights to her own body. In an unnerving print, a woman is crucified on a uterus. In the distance, other forms of historically cruel executions subtlety and starkly dot the horizon. A silhouette of a woman has been hanged, and another one is burning at the stake. Also etched in the background are wheels, a mid 16th century execution device reminiscent of medieval torture; this anachronistic structure alludes to Pieter Brueghel's Wheels that dotted his landscape in The Triumph of Death. A silhouette of a man runs from the execution, which shows that man is the executioner of his own kind. In the foreground, skeletons of former martyrs are scattered among symbolic modern day devices. A wire coat hanger lies not far from the woman's feet, explicitly reminding viewers that without safe clinics, women resort to unsafe methods of abortion. The other modern device is a Dalkon shield, a defective birth control device invented in 1970. Drooker borders the image with double helices, sperm, and chromosomes, to clarify that the sexual suppression is unfounded because a person's sex is arbitrarily determined by genetics. This crucifixion more than suggests that women who are nailed to this traditional and repressive role of sperm collectors are suffering as unjustly as the executed have for the past couple millennia. This brings up the question if humankind has actually progressed since the first famous crucifixion. Perhaps the figure is Christ- like, because she is bearing everyone else's sins, especially those who condemn her.

Although Drooker commonly utilizes women figures to represent motherhood, family, and victims of violence, he does not confine them to a passive or oppressed role. Many figures in his prints that stand up to oppressors are women. The strong woman who provides leadership and confidence for her fellow exploited people in a time of despair is similar to Kathe Kollwitz's women in her woodcuts and charcoal sketches. Drooker's women figures are strong in body and in spirit. Although many of the women are tall, curvy, and undeniably feminine, he does not marginalize or over sexualize the woman figure. The model woman has strong legs, conditioned from running from, standing up to, and fighting off oppressors. Her long hair echoes her actions, whether she is weeping, leaping, or kicking a riot policeman. Her nakedness and bare footedness is not a symbol of domesticity; on the contrary, it characterizes honesty, nature, and freedom. The barefoot woman, who defends herself from a portly, helmeted, riot policeman armed with a baton, guns, cuffs and arrogant police badge, demonstrates strength more powerful than any weapon the officer is armed with.

Another positive theme is creative expression in hard times. There is always a figure in the crowd shouting, singing, or holding up a musical instrument in protest against oppression. Many prints are Goya-esque: faceless uniformed men shoot at innocent citizens. Unlike the Third of May, or Picasso's Korean Massacre, the innocent victims are speaking up even as they are being shot. In the print Musical Attack the innocent are playing trumpets opposite of gun. Even when people are fleeing from the police, their poses are dance-like expressions in amongst silhouettes of pedestrians.

Many of these images were posted in the 1980s, when the rich prospered at the expense of the poor. Posting fliers in defiance of city regulations, Drooker encourages the underrepresented urban poor and displaced inhabitants to assemble. Optimistic messages and dancing and singing figures are the prints that show on Eric Drooker's fliers. By recognizing the importance of music and poetry in times of despair, Drooker helps people keep their dignity and humanity.

Artwork: Illustrations

Besides graphic and bold prints, Eric Drooker is also talented with watercolor. His paintings are more introverted than his prints, but equally, if not more so, thought provoking. On the September 12 1994 issue of The New Yorker, he illustrates businessmen as tall as the city skyscrapers, but walking precariously on stilts, shows their vulnerability. The haunting golden cover on the September 4 2001 issue of The New Yorker, "Tenement Island" shows an isolated building, with no residents or neighborhood, just a lonely figure fishing off the shore. This lack of community and contact, which Drooker focuses on locally, observes the complete isolation and disconnection from the rest of the world, was prescient of the September 11th attacks. Being a native New Yorker, Drooker is able to be both critical and compassionate of his city.

A painting that became the cover of the collaborative Illuminated Poems is also a mythical interpretation of New York City: Two winged figures fly toward the sun, presumably Icarus and Daedalus. As the son falls from flying to close to the sun, one wonders if there is a building that can be built too close to the sun, given all the sky scrapers that silhouette the cityscape. Skeletons and silhouettes appear in a painting in this collaboration. All sorts of figures, arrogant, meek, man, woman, have the same internal skeleton. Like Munch, Drooker frequently uses this motif to convey alienation and vulnerability in a crowd: "I'll flash the x-ray to convey feelings of extreme alienation, where the protagonist will be the only solid figure walking... and all of the other figures in the lonely crowd will be skeletons." (6)

Art Work: Graphic Novels

Flood! Is comprised of three wordless vignettes. Drooker's first graphic novel gives an intimate look at life in New York City. The first chapter "Home" follows a man as he gradually and painfully falls into the nadir of vagrancy. Drooker introduces the urban landscape with subway tracks and tunnels. The man walks to the building where he works and is shocked to see that the plant is closed. Upon returning to his apartment building, he receives a cold eviction notice. Readers sympathize with the evicted man, because they understand that the sign posted at the closed plant caused the sign to be posted at the apartment. The man pursues mundane activities in an 8 by 8 panel on a page; he visits a zoo, digs through a trash bin, listens to an orator, and talks in a phone booth. He also steals fruit and gets arrested for pick pocketing. The dispossessed, unemployed man becomes free from the demanding boss and landlord, but Drooker illustrates that this kind of freedom ironically gets the man arrested. The prison bars look similar to the bars at the zoo, except that the former are white and the latter are black. The white bars in the black space resemble a film negative. When the man is released, he returns to the city streets and his figure is a white silhouette, and eventually disappears into the tiny 16x16 black panels. Drooker concludes this story with a spread of a giant homeless man warming up by a streetlamp that reaches his knees. As little attention as people pay to the homeless, the size of this problem cannot be ignored. From the story, Drooker humanizes the homeless and bears light that the problem is not the ejected people, but the economic and social systems that allow people to slip through.

The second story, "L", shows the transformation of a subway ride into a primitive dance circle. Entering the stairs of the subway station, one sees artistic graffiti and a Keith Haring like figure scribbled on the wall. As the passenger go underground, he seems to delve into his inner psyche. At first, an enclave-like circle of people is singing and dancing in an empty tunnel. The walls then turn into darkness and trees, and the people turn into birds. The barking of a menacing police dog interrupts a dream-like sequence. Looking at this panel, I feel as if I have been sleeping and open my eyes to a vicious dog in my face. Not surprisingly, an unfeeling city cop, who arrogantly threatens the reader with a shiny baton, controls the fierce dog. The point of view is effective, showing that the policeman, who towers over the defenseless bystander, has complete power over the person's fate, but chooses not to help. This print is even more effective as a whole page in Street Posters and Ballads, instead of being a panel in a graphic novel. Returning to the city, the subway's rotating gates are reminiscent of the zoo and prison bars. This fantastic journey suggests that perhaps urban people are not that different from their primitive counterparts in their desire for music, company, and art.

The last story lends its name to the title of the novel, and is more personal because the main character resembles Drooker himself. It starts where "L" left off, at the bottom of the steps from the New York City subway station. Drooker introduces the city with skyscrapers and buildings, all bearing signs with meaningless words such as "eros" "adult" and "xxx." The first hint of rainstorm catches the main character off caught, but a sage looking man gives him an umbrella. As the main character returns to his studio drawing with blue ink an Eskimo alone on an iceberg, it begins to rain. The artist continues drawing. On top of one of the buildings, a skeleton of an arc forecasts the weather. In the artist character's drawing, he is walking with an umbrella, and a gust of wind takes him over clouds and he lands on a roller coaster in a carnival, perhaps in Coney Island. The carnival is a celebration of acts, as people parade in masks, and the artist comes upon a freak show with a tattooed man. He notices a ship inked on the man's bicep, which leads to a tangential story of the horrors started by Columbus's ship, and the beginning of oppression and rape in the Americas. This story is bordered with small skulls and crossbones, as well as corporate logos, which suggest the new wave of oppression and rape. Back to the artist's studio, the readers see that the torrent is flooding the room and he and his cat soon swim out the window.

Although the three stories are unrelated, Drooker ties together the theme of warped American values and alienation in a crowded city with reoccurring motifs. In the first story, when the unemployed man walks past a movie theater, two posters advertise two different movies. One poster displays a sexually provocative Statue of Liberty and the movie is rated "XXX". On the opposite side, a shirtless action hero totes a machine gun, and the rating for that advertised movie is "G" for general audiences. Two messages can be inferred from the image. One, there is obvious discrepancy between what Americans say we value and what we actually value. The degradation of American principles such as liberty and justice is juxtaposed with the general acceptance of war and violence. The other message is represented by the sexuality exuded from these posters. Female sexuality is taboo, but masculinity, represented by the half-naked Rambo- like image holding a phallic weapon, is acceptable and so commonplace that we have become desensitized to violence. The distorted values Drooker cleverly integrates in his images are also seen at the Coney Island carnival, where the festival of flesh celebrates freaks and clowns.

The theme of alienation is manifested in all three stories, Deliberately illustrated at the end first story, the reader sees a giant man, alone in his struggle, and physically alone in a metropolitan. The second story, with its subway journey into a collective inner psyche, shows that people have an innate want to communicate with other people through art and music. But when the subway resurfaces to the station, the subway gates that are alarmingly similar to prison bars, and remind us that people feel imprisoned emotionally. The theme of alienation is further internalized in the third story. Masks and painted faces at the carnival represent the emotional faÁade that people front so that others do not see how the really feel. The real nature of the carnival is unmasked when the artist's character leaves; he sees a sad clown, a la Georges Roualt's paintings of sad clowns that conveys alienation. Drooker's use of skeleton in the artist character gives the reader a look into the character that the other characters do not see.

Despite the emotional estrangement and prevalent urban socio-economic problems portrayed in the stories of Flood! Drooker does not denounce the metropolitan for these issues. The urban landscape does not cause people to lose jobs, nor does it prevent people from interacting with each other. It is not merely a backdrop where the stories take place, either. The cityscape is neither foreboding nor is it warm. The buildings, subways, and bridges show that people have accomplished a great task of creating a bustling, physically integrated macrocosm. But Drooker's portrayals of human connections are not as explicit. At the Coney Island Carnival, the character in the artist's drawing (who similarly represents the artist, and Drooker himself) lands on a roller coaster. When the ride has stopped, the barefoot girl in the seat next to him kisses him and runs away. Despite the graphic sex and advertised eroticism previously illustrated, this quick kiss is a tender moment in the novel. A woman speaking up against the police, along with trumpets facing off with guns, show grassroots mobilization, which Drooker shows in a positive light. After the deluge is over, the artist and his cat are rescued by the old Noah-like man who had given him the umbrella. The city is still flooded, but it seemed to drown the corporate scum for the sharks. Because the buildings are flooded, there are no corporate logos, sleazy signs, or cubicles of televisions and monitors that tell people how to think. The city, teeming with so many different people, has the potential for great cultural, political, and social achievements. Drooker concludes the novel with optimism.

Blood Song is Eric Drooker's latest wordless novel. Unbound from traditional panels, color, medium, or styles, Drooker takes graphic novels to an unprecedented artistic level. The Silent Ballad follows the journey of a girl who becomes a young woman, flees her home village to a bustling metropolis. The prelude to the ballad begins on a grand scale--among the stars. As the narration narrows in on a planet, readers are introduced to a family in an unknown semi-tropical village. The fusion of watercolor with block prints softens Drooker's usually sharp prints and establishes a misty landscape that sets a romantic mood. Drooker attests that he had never been in a village or even had a dog. He creates the idyllic aura to have it obliterated when the main character comes back from fetching water. She sees a harsh matrix of helicopters emerge from the soft sky as faceless soldiers automatically bayonet her father and incinerate her entire village. Although the portrayal of village seems simple and idealized, readers immediately recognize that these atrocities resonate with the brutal realities of the Vietnam War. The young woman flees through the forest with her dog, only to realize that the soldiers have pillaged every other mountainside. Drooker's use of watercolor to expand the landscape is effective in showing the destructiveness of war to nature.

Like Flood! the reader suspends her disbelief in the transition of the story as the young woman rows her boat defying the space- time continuum. This transition is not science fiction, but more of a surreal transformation. When the young woman arrives at the shores of a skeleton of a city, the empty stairwells and waterways contradict the busy smokestacks and machinery. This suggests two ideas: in juxtaposition to the agrarian village, a developed city can still lack heart. The other idea of the young woman entering a city unnoticed shows how little people pay attention to migrants. This is historically significant, since many new immigrants who arrive in urban settings are often overlooked and anonymous. The main character is only given attention when she rests on a sidewalk curb and is heckled by a police officer. A skirmish between her dog and the officer ensues, which is a different representation of the canine as his other works. In Drooker's earlier prints, the dog was a vicious accessory to the policeman, or a figurative representation of housing authorities. In Blood Song, the canine is a corporeal extension of the woman--instinctive and curious. As the main character and her dog are being chased, her figure becomes graceful dance poses in snapshots of running sequences. She finds solace in an urban dweller that is also heckled by the police.

Like many of Drooker's mundane heroes, the young man's song literally brings brightness into a monochromatic city. The police do not intimidate him even after they take away his saxophone and threaten him; the young man continues to attract people with his words the next day. This is similar to the tenacity of an individual after his home is taken away, after his musical instruments are taken away, and only has his voice. The event intentionally reflects Drooker's personal experience, when he was arrested for singing in the Tompkins Square Park. He illustrates the blatant injustice of locking away a person for exercising his freedom of speech and freedom of assembly; the young activist is incarcerated for seasons while the police who gas defenseless crowds and bully street dwellers are still on the streets. The panels of the expectant young woman opposite of her imprisoned lover show that prison is infinite in space and indefinite in time. However, the story does not end with cynical irony; the young woman's newborn opens his mouth to exalt the same brightness as his father.

Stylistically, when Drooker adds same-hued watercolor to his bold block prints, he is able to distinguish the angular and dramatic figures from the less intrusive background. His use of watercolor in the scenery also creates depth and space. Under the stylistic technique of traditional Asian art such as Japanese printmaker Katsushika Housai and Chinese landscapes, the village scenes in Blood Song not only creates a peaceful atmosphere but also conveys the innocence of the rustic life: "to portray depth . . .the gradual loss of detail, and softening of distant objects." (7) This is effective in comparison to when Drooker returns to his angular style as the main character arrives in the city.

Drooker's artistic freedom is not confined by the medium of the novel pages; instead he cleverly and unconventionally places panels across and within pages to make his story more dramatic. In the story "Home" in Flood! Drooker fits sixteen, then 64, and finally 256 panels on a page to create a diminishing image of the unemployed man. In contrast, many images in Blood Song span the two pages and beyond the panels. Aside from the landscapes, the double diptych imposed on the same spread of the village girl's eyes and the silhouette of her impaled father is a powerful image.

Blood Song's themes are as intense as the images are beautiful, and readers deduce that Drooker is conscious of issues beyond urban problems. The destruction of the rural village is a reminder of the madness of war and the cruelty of occupation. Unlike the urban police, the faceless soldiers on not quite demonized as they are mechanized to give the impression that they are pawns of a bigger system. This story challenges war hawks and patriots who believe that war is just, by showing the great cost in lives and the environment or what is commonly and coldly called "collateral damage." In the city, Drooker addresses pressing urban issues of oppression through police brutality and the stagnant prison system; these tools of law do not correct or construct a society, but are destructive to a democratic society. Drooker is also critical of the social and economic values that suppress individuality, and shows this through reoccurring motifs such as television screens, corporate logos, parking meters, and manikins. More subtly, he does not forget to include the homeless in the crowd; one can always find a silhouette of a figure digging through a trashcan or a dweller in the shadows. Despite these serious subject matters, ideas of creativity and creation still prevail. Love is expressed in visceral, sensual and lyrical images, and is emphasized with colors, just as all organic images in Blood Song are accented with color. Although global and urban problems are very specific in their own arena, Drooker draws similarities in common goals of peace, and slyly ties in both the last suppers in the village and the city with the skeleton of fish. One can deduce that the village is from Southeast Asia, or more specifically Vietnam, and that the urban macrocosm is Manhattan, but Drooker refuses to label the location and time, giving the appeal of the story a more universal perspective.

Although Drooker intentionally leaves out specific details of the village and city, the characters look like an Asian woman and a black man. This makes the story global, universal, and somewhat mythical, by having an interracial human contact, which is uncommon even in contemporary storytelling. However, portraying the characters in stereotypically sexually exotic tone removes the reader from the story and makes me less empathetic to the heroes. Having said that, I am told by Eric Drooker that sometimes people take his imagery too literally, and are quick to label him and his work with heavily connotated adjectives. (8) That being my only negative critical comment of Drooker's work, it should not diminish the overall affect of his art.

Despite Eric Drooker's grave subject matters and socially conscious themes in his paintings and prints, he fuses proactive optimism with bold artistry that makes his artwork peerless.


Drooker, Eric. Blood Song: A Silent Ballad. Harcourt Inc; New York. 2002.
Drooker, Eric. Flood! A Novel in Pictures. Dark Horse Books; New York. 1992
Drooker, Eric. Personal Communication. March 8 2004.
Drooker, Eric. Street Posters & Ballads. Seven Stories Press; New York. 1998.
Ginsberg, Allen. Drooker, Eric. Illuminated Poems. Four Walls Eight Windows; New York. 1996.
Lanier, Chris. The Comics Journal. Interview: January 2003.
The New Yorker. Sept 12, 1994; Sept 3, 2001.

1. Lanier, Chris. The Comics Journal. 2003
2. Drooker, Street Posters & Ballads. p. 8
3. Lanier, Chris. The Comics Journal. 2003
4. Lanier, Chris. The Comics Journal. 2003
5. Springsteen, Bruce, "The Ghost of Tom Joad." © 1995 A revision of a Woody Guthrie's 1940 song with lyrics: "Wherever little children are hungry and cry/ Wherever people ain't free/ Wherever men are fightin' for their rights/ That's where I'm gonna be, Ma/ That's where I'm a gonna be."
6. Lanier, Chris. The Comics Journal. 2003
7. Lanier, Chris. The Comics Journal. 2003
8. Drooker, Eric. 2004