Water. H20. The liquid of life. And sometimes it brings about death.
The symbolism of water and its many functions is a backdrop for the emotional journey envisioned in The Underwater Welder. This gripping graphic novel, written and drawn by Canada’s own Jeff Lemire, is his latest magnum opus.
We start off with Jack and his wife, who are very close to the arrival of their first child. Jack works as an Underwater Welder on an oil rig located just off the shore of his Nova Scotian village. Unfortunately a ghost from his past infiltrates the here and now, causing dysfunction in the present. Will the memories of his negligent father, and the eventual truth about his passing, cause Jack to conquer his own inner demons?
Lemire straddles his story very evenly between Jack dealing with his baggage, while trying desperately to continue functioning in his day to day life, and the Twilight Zone like world Jack spirals into. Is this trip in Jack’s troubled mind, or an actual journey to some other realm where hopeful catharsis is the order of the day? You must, as the reader experiencing this story, decide for yourself what to believe. The real to the surreal are both on display here.
The storytelling style used by Lemire is one he has mastered throughout his career. Quiet, still pages, filled with distance from love and understanding are keenly juxtaposed with sections brimming of character moments. Pacing is a strength Lemire has in his very impressive arsenal, all in service to the story.
All this takes place in, around, about, or immersed in water. The free flow of this wondrous element compliments the feelings Jack is buffeted by. The cover image, the sorrowful Jack slowly having the water fill his helmet, with the concern not over the imminent drowning, the logical thought, but of the vision before him. The symbolism of water here is overpowering and all encompassing. Even the trip to the netherworld for Jack involves healthy and copious amounts of water being used physically and metaphorically.
This latest addition to the pantheon of Lemire’s works is spellbinding. Jack, our intrepid Underwater Welder, grows and learns, all while navigating the flood of memories smashing his current life. Jack must learn to swim into himself. And we all hope he does.