Written By: Jeff Lemire
Pencils By: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Top Shelf
Release Date: OUT NOW IN STORES & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD (VIA COMIXOLOGY)
The infinitely talented Jeff Lemire impresses month on month with Sweet Tooth over at Vertigo and his masterpiece Essex County is one of the finest trilogies of stories in comic book form, so when The Underwater Welder arrived on the scene a couple of weeks back it was a must buy.
Opening with an intriguing introduction by Damon Lindelof that pays lots of love to The Twilight Zone and stories wrapped in mystery and weirdness I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to read here. I have pretty much hit this graphic novel blind and really it was my recently discovered deep affection for Essex County that drew me in. Anyway, from the opening dialogue free opening, Lemire’s scribbly yet still beautiful artwork felt mesmerizing as the frames began to paint a picture. We meet Jack, a man who’s wife is not far off of having their first child, yet Jack is still heading out to work on the deep sea rig to carry out his underwater welding.
Strange things begin to occur when Jack, while underwater welding has a strange experience and begins to see and hear things but before he can work out what’s going on, he loses consciousness, is pulled out of the ocean and it’s revealed that Jack’s oxygen may have been mixed incorrectly. Jack cannot except this straight forward explanation of his experience and becomes obsessed with going back under the water, to see if the pocket watch he saw down there was in his head and re-experience what had happened to him.
It’s from here the story begins to unfold. We discover Jack’s father was also a diver and a man in love with the ocean. Sadly he went missing within the ocean he loved one Halloween when Jack was a boy and ever since Jack has had something missing from his life. Jack’s father wasn’t the best. He had separated from Jack’s mother, was known as a drinker and a dreamer and yet despite all that Jack and his father had a connection and it’s here that The Underwater Welder becomes quite beautiful.
Via flashback, strange occurrences and stories told we discover just how alike Jack and his father were or more to the point how much Jack is becoming like his father. Lemire doesn’t play this as expected with a linear trek through the past instead he plays it absolutely perfectly. Sticking to the depiction of Jack’s father, seen through the eyes of his son. We know his father has made mistakes but Lemire keys into that childhood thing of seeing a father as someone a son loves without compromise. We are almost made to love Jack’s father as much as Jack does, despite his flaws and at the same time we yearn for Jack not to end up like his dad was before he went missing.
The Underwater Welder begins to tread the lines of reality as the story pushes on but it’s never anything but personal for Jack. His memories, his fears, his weaknesses, his sadness and his missing pieces are all explored. Jack’s journey of letting his father go and moving on is handled delicately and with a great amount of respect for the part fathers play in our lives . Will we become our fathers? Do we really want to be different? Can we learn from their mistakes? Somehow Lemier asks all these questions without preaching the answers or even drawing attention to the subjects being raised. This really is an incredible piece of work and something that highlights just how powerful, striking and poignant a graphic novel can be.
The Underwater Welder is easily a graphic novel that will sit near the top end of my favourites come the end of year and once again Lemier has keyed into something wonderful with his soft, steady storytelling and his ability to tell a heart warming story without being afraid to get experimental with his visuals and where he wants to take his readers.
The Underwater Welder is OUT NOW and anyone that loves a graphic novel with real heart should seek it out.