The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

As an underwater welder on an oilrig off the coast of Nova Scotia, Jack Jospeh is used to the immense pressures of deep-sea work. Nothing, however could prepare him for the pressures of impending fatherhood. As Jack dives deeper and deeper, he seems to pull further and further away from his young wife and their unborn son. Then one night, deep in the icy solitude of the ocean floor, something unexplainable happens. Jack has a mysterious and supernatural encounter that will change the course of his life forever.

 

I have only recently gotten into graphic novels having thoroughly enjoyed ‘Seconds’ by Bryan Lee O’Malley and the infamous ‘Saga’ series. Last week I popped down to my favourite Geeks Emporium ‘Forbidden Planet’ on Shaftesbury Avenue and picked up this copy of ‘The Underwater Welder‘ by Jeff Lemire. Being a newbie to graphic novels, I had not heard of this author (philistine I hear you say) and was, therefore, initially drawn in by the cover. The premise of this story sounded very interesting and I am definitely more of an indie comic lover than a superhero lover.

In short, this graphic novel was everything I hoped for and more. The plot was mesmerising and will stay with me long after finishing. Jack, an underwater welder on an oilrig, lives with his 8 months pregnant wife, Suzie. At the beginning of the story we hear Suzie begging Jack to stay and not attend another two week work trip. Jack is obsessed with work (we later realise to fill his mind with activity so as not to dwell on the death of his father all those years ago). Whilst underwater, Jack starts to hear voices and whisperings linked to a pocket watch his father gave him before he died. It is from this moment onwards that Jack’s state of mind starts to take a dip. Whose are the voices and what do they want with him? What really happened to his father that Halloween eve? As Jack falls deeper into despair, he, unwillingly, distances himself from his pregnant wife. Trapped in memories of the past, Jack sets out to discover the truth.

Jeff Lemire’s skill as an author/illustrator lies in his use of flashbacks between past and present. Towards the end of the story, Jack begins to visit scenes from his past and speaks to his former self to find out the truth behind his father’s untimely death. This gives the novel a brilliant ‘film-like’ quality as the shocking past is revealed to the reader at the same time it is to Jack. 

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire addresses some dark themes such as divorce, betrayal, alcoholism and death. Although the illustrations weren’t the best I’ve seen, the scratchy, loose element really added to the haunting undertones of the story and fitted the characters well. Lemire included some amazing double page spreads that work so well in graphic novels as a reminder to the reader that stories can be told just as well without words. Along with the dark, poignant themes, Lemire has woven in moments of hope, longing and love and, as stated in the blurb, ‘there is nothing more wondrous than the human heart.’

Rating 5/5
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