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The Underwater Welder s/c

The Underwater Welder s/c back

Jeff Lemire

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

“You don’t have to keep doing this you know. You don’t have to go in there.”
“Yes. I do.”

“Jackie? There’s one hell of a storm rolling in... What’re you doing down here?”
“I’m looking for my dad. Have you seen him? I thought maybe he was here.”
“Oh I seen him all right... Was sitting there all afternoon, shooting his mouth off about God knows what. All that treasure he finds. Yer dad still couldn’t pay his damn.”
“Cool it, Gerry! Yer dad said he was off to pick you up, Jackie. Just need to find something for you first.”
“Find something?”
“Yep, that’s what he said.”
“Okay... thanks.”

Occasionally you read a comic or graphic novel at just the right moment in your life so that it touches you in a different way to if you had read it at another time, the circumstances of your life right then causing you to make some personal connection, profound or even just mildly tenuous to the events, which wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Thus in my case if I hadn’t read KICK-ASS I wouldn’t have become a costumed crime fighter...

Joking aside, that synchronous element, true of all media obviously – prose books, music, film, television etcetera – was certainly present for me here as Jack Joseph, the underwater welder of the title, working off the coast of chilly Nova Scotia, is preparing to become a father for the first time and his life is therefore about to dramatically change*. There is then already the element of flux, of change, of the profoundest possible sense that things cannot possibly remain the way they were eating away at Jack...

And so, already a solitudinous sort of cove, in part due to the nature of his work, he finds himself drawn even further inward reflecting upon the nature of parenthood, his own relationship with his divorced parents, in particular his wayward father, who vanished mysteriously on Halloween when Jack was just a lad*. Jack had been expecting him to turn up to take him treat or treating, which in itself was to make up for not picking him up from his hockey game the day before. After that particular occasion, subsequently finding his dad in the local tavern where he spent most of his time when not vainly diving for sunken treasure, a disappointed Jack heads to pub again on Halloween evening to confront his father, fully expecting to find his dad holding court, but instead is left with a puzzle that will eat away at him for many years to come.

I do wonder whether this work – and SWEET TOOTH as well now I come to think about it, and you can certainly throw ESSEX COUNTY in there too – is informed by Jeff’s personal experiences of family and fatherhood. I’m not suggesting that anything he’s written is in any way strongly autobiographical, but it’s certainly interesting to see themes running through much of his work, that of familial and filial relationships being foremost amongst them. It certainly always provides a powerful undercurrent for the direction of his narrative and characters, and so it is here once again.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jack’s heavily pregnant wife Susan is becoming increasing upset with his distant attitude as they rapidly approach full term, and certainly extremely unimpressed with his decision to take two last weeks of work welding underwater at an offshore rig, right before the birth of their son. So when Jack has a most peculiar experience under the waves which requires him to be rescued, she fervently hopes that this event will finally force him to start thinking seriously about their future. Instead, of course, it has precisely the opposite effect, making him evermore obsessed with his own father, and the unusual circumstances of his disappearance. As the birth approaches, and Jack seems to be sinking further and further into the past, Susan begins to wonder if they even have any sort of future together. I must admit at this point, I was practically yelling at the page telling Jack to sort himself out!

Another majestic piece of storytelling from Jeff, and I was hooked immediately. And whilst there are some superbly surreal dream sequences and hallucinatory segments that captivate and beguile, this really is a story all about people at its heart. The art style is the typically loose yet incredibly detailed penmanship we’ve come to know and love from Lemire and there’s really clever use of page design too throughout: some lovely composite panel pages and also some delightful full-page underwater spreads. Recommended, therefore.

* Just to add for the easily confused that a) no, my wife and I are not expecting again, once is more than enough thank you very much, and b) my dad was not a diver hunting for sunken and treasure and has most definitely not vanished. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if one day he revealed he was an undercover agent spying for a foreign power but that's a whole other digression for a different review...

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