Jeff LeMire is a Canadian cartoonist whose graphic novel The Underwater Welder takes you on an intense emotional ride.
We love our funny books (re: comics) here at NH7.in and we spend a lot of our time discussing and generally obsessing about them. We thought we’d share some of our favourite new comics with you on our new weekly feature, NH7 Quick Draw.
Jeff LeMire is a Canadian cartoonist who has previously written and illustrated the DC Vertigo series Sweet Tooth. My introduction to his work was through this comic. The story of the series was weird enough to attract my attention. It’s about a post-apocalyptic future, where the world is inhabited by humans and animal-human hybrids. The hero of the story is an antlered teenager called Gus. This premise was handled by LeMire in a decidedly dark and twisted fashion, which made it rather fun to read, even if it wasn’t one of the most artistically polished comics I have read. The Underwater Welder, his 2012 graphic novel also features a somewhat surreal storyline. The comic is touted as the best episode of The Twilight Zone that was never produced, and though that may be an overstatement, it is a pretty good comic.
The story line is simple, which is why it is so easy to relate to. There is an underwater welder named Jack. His profession is pretty dangerous, and his wife is pregnant, due to deliver in the next few days. He shouldn’t be out working at his rig, but something is driving him to go there, and the climax of the story is when we find out what that is. The book is not as surreal as an episode of The Twilight Zone, because you realise pretty soon that it is something related to his past, but it is unsettling at times, and at times, heart-wrenching. What really drives the series home is the beautiful artwork.
The lines are smudgy and unclean, but skilled. The shadows are utilised beautifully to highlight character emotions, and the raw-but-detailed art just adds to the whole atmosphere. The most remarkable part of the book is the way the paneling works. It’s almost like watching a film, detailed close-ups that act as ‘wormholes’ into the past and present, multiple panels without dialogue and an abundance of space. There is no fast-paced action here, but the story is strong enough to not go lax. LeMire’s work is strange and sort of reminiscent of some of the more surrealist work done by Daniel Clowes (think A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron), but he is unable to impart his characters with the same level of humanity as Clowes.
The Underwater Welder is a good comic book because the characters in the book aren’t unreal. They’re flawed enough to be real and compelling enough to be interesting. This, at its core, drives the story of the comic, and in about 220-odd pages, you go on an emotional roller-coaster ride, revisiting the character’s childhood, almost living in his head, and then emerging to a somewhat trite, but ultimately redemptive ending that makes the whole ride worth it.
Definitely a comic that you should read if you are looking for a haunting, human story, that isn’t emotionally overwrought or holier than thou in its scope.