The Underwater Welder (Top Shelf) is the newest graphic novel from Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire. Thematically, it’s a follow up to Essex County, in that it explores a father/son relationship and is set in a small Canadian town. Lemire’s art is beautiful and his pace is relaxed. He makes use of what Scott McLeod calls aspect-to-aspect panel transitions to establish a coastal atmosphere: seagull, ship, dock. It’s a beautiful book, but I was left less than overwhelmed by the plot.
When I interviewed Lemire for geist.com in March, he explained the plot of the book as follows: “It follows this guy who’s a welder on an off-shore oil rig, and [he] and his wife live in this really tiny coastal town and they’re expecting their first baby. [So] he’s experiencing a lot of pressure […] and it’s taking its toll on his marriage and on the job. […] Then one day he surfaces from working under the ocean […] into a world that’s really different from the one he left, and he’s got to find his way back to his unborn son and his wife.”
It’s not an inaccurate description of what happens, but it had me expecting something a little more engaging. I pictured some kind of crazy natural disaster wreaking havoc on everything above the ocean and Jack, as he turned out to be called, wandering through a dystopian, Sweet Tooth-like landscape trying to find his family.
You can’t really blame a story for not being what you thought it was going to be, but the actual plot of The Underwater Welder turned out to be a little predictable. Besides being stressed out about becoming a father, Jack is still trying to get over his own father’s death, twenty years earlier. When he surfaces to find the world has changed, he finds that he’s all alone. Even the seagulls are gone. In order to escape this weird un-reality, Jack must come to terms with his father’s death. In the introduction to the book, Damon Lindelhof compares The Underwater Welder to an episode of The Twilight Zone. The comparison is accurate, to the extent that you may feel you’ve already seen this episode.
Whatever I thought of the plot, The Underwater Welder is still a gorgeous book and fans of Lemire will enjoy it.