A stranded diver seeks the lost pieces of his broken mind in the webcomic Alpha Flag

For some folks, the act of losing one's mind is a bit more literal. When Alpha Flag's Diver arrives in an empty winter town, he finds that he's not only alone — he's forgotten who he is. And he must join with some pieces of his shattered mind — and fight against others — if he ever wants to make himself whole again.

Jon Cairns' webcomic opens with a surreal sequence. A man in a diving suit wakes up not underwater, but in a snowy mountain town. At first glance, the monochromatic village seems empty, but suddenly, a bright yellow polar bear bursts into the street. Once the Diver fends it off, he discover that this is a world where only particular objects are in brilliant color: a red sword that passes through his body unimpeded, the yellow polar bear, a blue and yellow bird who spies upon him as he wanders about, confused.

Things seem no less confusing when the Diver encounters Charlie, a cheerful man of glowing red and blue. Charlie claims not to be a man at all, but the Diver's confidence, lost to him along with the other aspects of his personality. The Diver, it seems, is just an empty shell of the man he once was, devoid of his comprehension, confidence, powers of speech, will to live, even his loneliness. Even though he's just a chip off the soul of a now-soulless man, Charlie is by far the more proactive of the pair, and is soon leading the Diver on a quest to reintegrate the portions of his fractured self. It seems, though, that some of the Diver's pieces are quite happy with their newfound independence, and will go to great lengths to avoid reintegration.

The early chapters of Alpha Flag focus mostly on the rules of the Diver's situation. The Diver, and most of the world, are in black-and-white while his lost pieces are in color, corresponding to the international maritime signal flags. (Incidentally, the Alfa flag means "I have a diver down.") The Diver can reintegrate lost pieces of himself, but some reintegrations are simpler than others. The Diver cannot speak, but his thoughts appear as a narration inside the notebook of his own comprehension. But even as a series of rules, the universe Cairns has created is delightfully dream-like, and its internal logic keeps readers guessing as to who — or what — will show up next. How will the flag's meaning correspond to the Diver's sense of self? And what form will that flag take?

It also feels like we're about to turn a corner into the larger story. As the Diver begins to understand how the world around him works, we readers are seeing clues to his probable antagonist, one who might start putting obstacles in his path. The Diver will have to face far greater challenges than he has before — and move much closer to fully human — before he's ready for Zulu and his tug back to wherever he came from.

[Alpha Flag]