Every so often a comic comes along that opens your eyes to the possibilities of the medium. Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire is just such a book.
As an underwater welder on an oilrig off the coast of Nova Scotia, Jack Joseph is used to the immense pressures of deep-sea work. Nothing, however, could prepare him for the pressures of impending fatherhood. As Jack dives deeper and deeper, he seems to pull further and further away from his young wife and their unborn son. Then one night, deep in the icy solitude of the ocean floor, something unexplainable happens. Jack has a mysterious and supernatural encounter that will change the course of his life forever.
Equal parts blue-collar character study and mind-bending mystery, The Underwater Welder is a graphic novel about fathers and sons, birth and death, memory and reality, and the treasures we all bury deep below the surface.
Lemire is on to something truly profound with his latest graphic novel, Underwater Welder. It is equal parts character study, atmospheric thriller, and treatise on the elegance and nuance of graphic storytelling. Not a panel or word balloon is wasted, each wonderful on its own, while contributing to a book which is greater than the sum of its parts.
To start with, the character if Jack is a more than just the everyman. He is the everyman who has tried to escape from his past (both literally and figuratively) but is brought back to his home town where he takes a job that reminds him every day of past tragedies. In him is bittersweet acceptance that this is his life. It is not what he had hoped, and not one he would have wanted, but he has made it his own and there have been good times that keep the demons at bay.
However, when something bizarre happens, his world is turned upside down, and the world no longer makes any sense. It is here that the book’s tone and atmosphere becomes palpable. Lemire’s seaside village takes on a Twilight Zone feel with things familiar yet entirely foreign. It becomes an arduous task to turn the page as each moment brings the reader and the characters deeper in to despair.
But making all of this possible is Lemire’s art. He employs a subtle narrative device with his art which enhances the storytelling and brings deeper meaning to the pages. When Jack is above ground, Lemire sticks to a formal grid layout using only black and white to covey the action. However, when Jack slips below the surface of the water, the underwater world is rendered in ink washes and grey tones adding a layers and beauty to the world which are not present in the world above. In addition, Lemire explodes the layout, eschewing the carefully crafted panels of the surface worlds for sinewy lines which weave and curve like a creature of the deep.
The literal pressure of the underwater world also serves as a contrast to the societal and familial pressures of the world on land. While the reader can see the and feel the pressure which Jack works through under the water (the inks providing a visual cue that cannot be matched) the words of the people and the disapproving looks of his family provide more pressure than anyone can handle.
Jeff Lemire’s Underwater Welder has rocketed to the top of my Book of the Year list. It is the perfect blend of words and pictures and should serve as a beacon for those searching for what comics can be.
Underwater Welder had a special release for Comic Con and will be available in comic shops come August. Ask your retailer to reserve a copy today (or go on Amazon and pre-order a copy).
Interested in a preview? Click here.