I try to keep up with the good comics out there, but I usually fail. Someone will say to me, “Have you read [this or that] comic? It’s great.” And I have to admit, “Well, no. I’ve never even heard of it.”
Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder finally came to my attention. I did not read this one for the art. It was all about the story. Personally, I found the art, well, ugly. And redundant– in the sense that it is mostly front-forward faces, and not even pretty or exceptionally drawn ones.
The best image is a cool two-page spread of memories returning in a cascade of pictures.
The story is about a young man coming to terms with his own imminent (or rather, looming) fatherhood while simultaneously facing facts about his own father, who died when the young man was still a boy. His father was not the most responsible man, a drunk who ran a sea-salvage operation and was always diving in hopes of finding the big score.
The tale is told in the present-day, with flashbacks to scenes of the young man’s childhood days spent with his father. There’s a mysterious element having to do with an old watch, and a sequence late in the book that has an eerie, lonely, bad dream quality to it.
The men of the story, even with their faults (which are deep and numerous) nevertheless come off as more likable than the women, who are angry, disappointed hen-peckers frustrated with the failing and flailing men they’ve joined themselves to in life.
The young man finds an escape from his life underwater, where he gets to be alone and to feel blanketed by the undulating ocean above him. Lemire does an excellent job keeping the water-element-thing ever-present throughout the narrative: bathtubs, rains, puddles, sinks, etc…
Also, Lemire’s bleak black-and-white work helps convey the dismal tone of the story, and the way he draws the seaside town makes it feel as gray, depressed, and isolated as our main character. The heavy lines and starkness of the artwork make it feel almost like woodblock prints.