While it wouldn't be fair to describe Abe Sapien: The Drowning as impenetrable, it is certainly one of the more delightfully elusive comics to be published in recent memory. As Brandon pointed out in his review of the book, Abe's first solo book is in large part about the crisis of confidence and responsibility attendant to his first 'solo' assignment. This peculiar mirroring of form and content aside, there is an awful lot of other stuff going on in the book, the significance of which is not immediately clear.
The narrative and imagery of The Drowning are firmly anchored in the sea, which is appropriate for a story centering on Abe. The shipwreck with which the series opens sets the tone for the book, not only in terms of the centrality of the looming threat represented by the sea, but also the eerie luminescence of Jason Shawn Alexander's art, complemented by Dave Stewart's colors. While the narrative is ostensibly about Abe's attempt to recover the Lipu Dagger from the corpse of the Dutch warlock Epke Vrooman, as the story progresses the focus shifts increasingly toward the legacies of the Sainte Sebastien's twin evils: the 17th century blaze which wiped out the island's leper colony, and the island's history as a hub in the trade of African slaves.
There is a sequence in the series' fourth issue in which the old woman who had conjured the sea creatures who attacked Abe and Agent Van Fleet as they dived in search of the dagger, killing the latter, recounts the island's ignoble history to Abe, evoking the "traffic in flesh," and "innocent blood spilled." The illustrations on these pages depict the shackled African slaves parading down the island's cobbled streets, followed by a panel showing a bound man being savagely whipped, the panel colored completely in lurid blood red. The book's ruminations on the evils of the slave trade, its evocations of shipwrecks and malevolent sea creatures, and the impressionistic ink splatters and celestial light of the illustrations recall the paintings of the English landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, particularly his astonishing Slavers Throwing the Dead and Dying Overboard, Typhoon Coming On (1840).