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Advance Review: The Underwater Welder

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Monday, July 09 2012 and posted in Reviews

The Underwater Welder, the wonderful new OGN by writer/artist Jeff Lemire, is available for pre-order now, and hits shelves soon!  Order it now, or pick up your copy at San Diego Comic-Con!

Comic Review Cover

Credits & Solicit Info:

224-page softcover with French flaps
6.88" x 10.44", black and white graphic novel
For mature readers (16+)
ISBN 978-1-60309-074-2
Diamond order code: JUN12-1298
$19.95 (US)
Shipping to stores in August!


Sometimes, it's just too damn hard to move on.  Something happens to us when we're kids and it sticks to us through adulthood.  So how do we deal with this kind of thing?

Jeff Lemire has Jack Joseph, the protagonist of his new OGN The Underwater Welder, figure out that very question.  Married with a baby on the way, Jack can't seem to live in the present.  Having lost his father as a boy under mysterious circumstances, Jack can't detach from the idea that there was something more to his father's death than the simple stoy that he got drunk and drowned one night.  The emotion Lemire infuses Jack's story is true and poignant, as Jack, maudlin as he is, feels all too real.  It's easy to see where he's coming from.  His connection to water is notable, since water is so often used as an element of cleansing in literature.  Here, water washes over Jack and keeps him stuck in the same muddy emotional place.  Far from cleansing, it keeps him in the dirt he's been living in. 

The Underwater Welder takes place in that strange place where memories and dreams intersect.  Jack is haunted by the memories of his father as much as he sees him as a wish-fulfillment figure.  While he can't stop thinking about him, he also fears becoming like him.  It's a subtle complexity that Lemire, himself a young husband and father, wields effortlessly.  There is so much going on in the eyes and craggy face of Jack Joseph, that it becomes easy for the reader to fall deeper into his emotional journey.

Lemire renders all of this in a four-tiered structure that alternates between  sixteen-panel grids and wide panels, creating a dynamic sense of atmosphere and place.  The gridded pages ramp up the tension of a scene, which then gets released by the larger, more airy panels in the next page.  This manner of scene transition causes the narrative to come about in waves.  The story moves along in crashing torrents of emotion as well as smooth traveling, quiet stillness.  Lemire's use of contrast to establish texture works also works very well.  While on land, he uses stark blacks and whites, while underwater, the environment is rendered in a fluid grayscale that connotes the current and weightlessness of the briny deep. The most remarkable use of the grid structure is when Lemire uses it on a single action.  Whether it's the intimacy in a close-up, a sweeping aerial shot, or a medium shot of Jack rising out of the water, Lemire uses this visual device to give his story a more dynamic look that's very effective and eye-catching.

Art from The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

So how does one move past oppressive memories?  How do you break free?  Lemire has Jack confront them head on.  Jack dives (literally as well as figuratively) down into his memory of his father and forces himself to learn about what's happened in the past.  This is when things very compelling.  While expecting Jack to heroically face up to some plot contrivance that reveals everything to him, the reader sees Jack learn in a roundabout way what exactly what he needs to in order to move forward in his life.  In matters of the mind, nothing fits together well, and everything just looks weird and unsettling.  Meditative and haunting, The Underwater Welder is the portrait of a man in crisis, and whose anxieties play out in very truthful and fascinating ways.  It dawns on you that while Jack is obsessed with the story of his father, what he's really worried about is his relationship to his own unborn child.  Jack's impending fatherhood is weighing heavily on his mind, and he's retreating into his own mind, and his own story, in order to come to terms with that.  While the character of Suse never really rises about the stock character of the put-upon housewife, that feels excusable here because this is completely Jack's story, and Lemire focuses on it sharply.  It's a singular vision of a man who needs to figure himself out before he can truly grow up and become a man. 

Art from The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire


Review by: Royal Nonesuch

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