GNF 9 – The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Underwater Welder cover

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf, 2012)

Essex County by Jeff Lemire is still one of my very favorite comics. It’s beautiful and moving and just absolutely lovely. I was thrilled when I found out that he had a new comic out last summer and when I finally held it in my hands, opened it up and read the introduction? I knew that this graphic novel was going to be for me. The introduction is written by Lost writer Damon Lindelof and he describes The Underwater Welder as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I had a good few years when I was obsessed with The Twilight Zone. I would get out the newspaper or watch that scrolling TV Guide channel to see when it was on cable. I just loved the way the stories were told and I loved how weird and sometimes sad, sometimes scary they were. The Underwater Welder really did feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone, like one of the best episodes.

Jack is an underwater welder on an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. His wife is about to give birth to their first child, but all Jack can think about is working. It’s partially to have enough money to raise his child, but also because the pressure of starting a family is getting to him. His own father died when he was very young in an unexplained accident and Jack has never really gotten over it. When he goes out on the rig just a few weeks before his child is born, he experiences a strange event underwater that sends him in a spiral.

In Essex County, Jeff Lemire’s snow and ice-covered landscapes were amazing. He does the same thing in The Underwater Welder with the coastline. The art is beautiful, but also evokes the loneliness that Jack is feeling. The book is very much about the parallels between Jacks life and his father’s life. Where they are similar and where they are very different. As he gets closer to the birth of his child, he finds himself feeling more and more like his father. As that happens, suddenly his features begin to look more like his father’s. It’s subtle, but there.

I had a chance to meet Jeff Lemire at Comic Con in 2011, but I didn’t stay around. I regret it! I would have loved to meet him and have him sign the hardcover of Essex County that I bought at the con. The moral of that story is… don’t be lazy! Stick around at an exhausting convention to meet one of your favorite comic artists. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Comic-A-Week March 13-19: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

I’ve been hearing good things about Essex County for a long time, so finally reading it almost felt like coming home to something I’d been missing. I can think of so many adjectives to describe Essex County: haunting, epic, real, beautiful, authentic. There are so many, and all of them good. It’s a sweeping family drama that starts at the end and slowly winds itself to the beginning and back again.

I don’t know that I really want to go into the specifics of this comic, because watching the history of this family unfold is what is so beautiful about it. You don’t really know how things are connected until the very end and I loved that about it. You can guess, but all of the intricacies and twists of the family trees play out slowly throughout the course of the stories. This is a collection of shorter comics and each one focuses on a different person in Essex County. Geography initially seems to be the only thing connecting them, but it is much more.

I was recently listening to the Bookrageous podcast about taboo topics in literature and the topic of comics was brought up. Bookrageous contributor Josh was talking about graphic novels and comics when he said something that really expressed how I feel about the medium: the ability to express emptiness. He goes on to say that a blank page can be extremely powerful in a graphic novel and I couldn’t agree more. Essex County is filled with moments like this, of not necessarily blank pages, but nearly blank pages. The beginning chapter takes place on a farm, and every scene involving the corn and its progression were perfect in expressing a character’s loneliness, along with the passage of time. Or when another character returns to the farm, all lines denoting where the image ends and begins are abandoned and the landscape of the farm takes over completely, accompanied by a long, lonely shadow. Or more still, when the pane focuses solely on the ice. How do you draw ice in black and white? Lemire does it.

Another favorite part of Essex County? When one young character loves drawing comics and we get to see the comics he draws. They are amazing. As someone who has zero talent for drawing, I wonder what it was like to go back and draw in the style of a child. I love it when a comic pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a comic. It is such an open medium – why not include photographs? Why not include multiple styles?  Why not draw part of the comic as if you were 12? I also love a comic that has such a strong sense of place. See my review of Local. Essex County is so completely relates what it is like to live in rural Canada that I feel as though I have been there. Even though I have never stepped foot in a place more north than Rhode Island, I can feel the cold, I can feel the vast, openness of it.

I always find these comics after they have been collected into an omnibus. Where are the comics now that will be collected together in a few years? Can anyone point me in that direction? I want to be on top of this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. In the mean time, get out there and read Essex County. You won’t be disappointed.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

An Adventure in Reading (Vol 1 & 2), So Many Books, So Little Time (Vol 1, 2 & 3), Monniblog, Buried in Print, all have posts about Essex County. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add it here.