Consistent fans of my column probably realize that 99% of the comics I read focus on superheroes. Recently, however, I’ve made a concious effort to read more titles and graphic novels that are “off the beaten path” so to say. One that caught my eye was The Underwater Welder, an original graphic novel by Jeff Lemire published in 2012 after several years of work. Going in, I only knew two things about it:
1. It’s written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire.
2. It’s about an underwater welder.
Other than that, I had no idea what to expect. Surprise was the name of the game as I dived into this hauntingly beautiful graphic novel.
The Underwater Welder tells the story of Jack Johnson, a thirty-three year old man employed as an underwater welder on an oil rig off the cost of Nova Scotia. Jack drifts through life, feeling detached from everyone around him including his pregnant wife, Susan. Jack’s wish for solitude, however, is seemingly fulfilled, forcing him to confront his past.
It’s really hard to give more of a plot summary than what I said above without spoiling too much. Honestly, the best advice I can offer is read this graphic novel yourself. The plot is touching and I cared deeply about all the characters by the end. Lemire accomplishes this by portraying characters with personalties that seem real: everyone within is far from perfect, which adds to their depths of characterization. It’s a story that makes you think, and I found myself sitting and contemplating this graphic novel for a good fifteen minutes after I finished reading.
The art, or more accurately the visual storytelling, is where this graphic novel truly stands out. As a visual medium, it’s equally important for comics to portray story elements through images as well as dialogue and narration. Lemire makes great use of parrallel images throughout the story to tie the narrative together and show the similarities between Jack and his father. Lemire chose to present the entire story in black and white, a decision which I think benefits the comic’s surreal presentation of real world situations. I don’t find the art amazing, but the style itself benefits this strange, subdued tale.
It’s a testament to The Underwater Welder that this graphic novel has been on my mind for days after reading. The writing and art are both great and tell a story unlike any other I’ve seen, whether in graphic novel form or otherwise. I actually planned to read it in segments, but it was so enthralling that I read through the entire work in one sitting. Fans of The Twilight Zone or similar surreal works will definitely enjoy this piece. Give this graphic novel a try; I’d be surprised if anyone read the whole thing without enjoying it.
-excellent visual storytelling
-believable, relatable characters
-art leaves something to be desired
Brett Simon is a twenty-three year old comic enthusiast. He promises this won’t be the last non-superhero comic he reviews.
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