This man looks–no, feels–troubled.
That was my first thought upon reading the first, wordless page of Jeff Lemire’s latest work, The Underwater Welder. Lemire’s storytelling capabilities are as stark as they are subtle. If that’s old news, well, I’m glad you’re a fan. If that sounds a little contradictory, maybe that’s because it doesn’t happen often, so the two aren’t easily paired.
Lemire’s consistent use of simplistic, rough lines lends a sense of raw emotion to his illustrations that is difficult to find in comics penned under a more photo-realistic brand. While I can guess that some folks see his bare-bones style as minimalist (with which I disagree), his art serves him dutifully. It’s as clear in The Underwater Welder as it has ever been in his work.
And that’s all well and good, but there is a reason his artistic style is so perfectly suited for his stories. The narrative in The Underwater Welder leans heavily on the reader’s emotional state–something that is indicative of Jeff Lemire’s whole bibliography. Stripped down to their essential lines, characters’ faces and body language in Welder give as much or more depth to the story by feeding that emotion than the dialogue ever could.
But this should always be the case in good comic book writing, right? Well, if that were true, I’d be flat broke from the inability to not buy new graphic novels on an hourly basis.
The difference between this story and other “good” writing is what it does with that emotion; I felt the anxiety, restlessness and fear these characters experienced before reaching any of the dialogue that would help me understand where those feelings were coming from. Very rarely does the art in a story function so efficiently as a primer for what lies just a page or two ahead. The Underwater Welder performs this surreal task more so than any of Jeff Lemire’s other works.
That was the first reason I loved this story.
Now for number two: this book is wondrously creepy in more than a few spots. I don’t know that I can or should elaborate there, but will simply suggest that you go out and find this book and read it immediately. Here’s a brief plot summary for you.
Eponymous, expectant father Jack has fallen into malaise as the Halloween season approaches in Nova Scotia. He spends little time with his wife, who is nine months pregnant, and becomes absorbed in his work on the oil rig, repairing its structure in the ocean depths. An inexplicable event on a routine dive forces Jack to re-examine the mysterious disappearance of his father during his youth and to examine the dark and hidden parts of his own psyche in the process. The Underwater Welder is an eerie examination of a man’s realization that the sins of his father may become his own; that his choices will determine whether or not he’s doomed to be the same man. Equal parts mystery, coming-of-age story and waking dream, this is one for the money.
If you’ll pardon this ridiculous play on words (I feel obligated): thanks, Mr. Lemire, for diving deep and bringing this one up.
The Underwater Welder Image from Jeff Lemire’s blog