All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues: The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Identity. That seems to be my theme of the week (Sing it now, THEME OF THE WEEEEEEK!), as I have recently read and enjoyed a multitude of comic books dealing with that theme. Phonogram was one such comic, in which characters defined themselves through art and popular culture, specifically music. The comic I’m writing about today, Underwater Welder, features a character defined both by his father, and his own transformation into a father.

Jack Joseph is the titular Underwater Welder.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 9.36.23 PM

He’s got a baby on the way. He welds things underwater. Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 9.36.14 PM

He lives and works in the sleepy town he grew up in. Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 9.36.02 PM

 

His life seems to be walking through life half awake, moving almost at a snail-like pace, like he’s trying to extend every second that still exists in the period before he becomes a Father. I capitalize “Father” not because Jack is about to become a man of the cloth, but because that word haunts him. His own father made his living underwater too. And drowned. On Halloween. When he was supposed to be trick or treating with Jack. And in the present day, it looks like Jack is going to become a father right around the time that he lost his own. It messes with his head. Big time. Lemire explores this in what can only be described as a Twilight Zone-y style, with Jack becoming lost in his own past as well as a ghost-town version of his home town.

So you’ve been plot summaried, while I’ve sprinkled in some panels of Lemire’s beautiful artwork. Based on my own artistic knowledge, I can only assume that he’s working in brush and ink, and he’s doing so wonderfully. It’s such a loose, yet committed style. I don’t know if he drafted anything in pencil, I’m sure he must have, but it looks like he just went for it, and nailed it.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 9.40.25 PM

Pacing. Look at that pacing. It’s fantastic. It slows you down as a reader, forcing you to read at the art’s pace. With the slow drip of blood hitting water or a blade creeping along a face. Whenever it seems that business might pick up a bit, like a big revelation is coming, we’re forced to cool our jets via some close up inserts that slow that action down.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 9.35.39 PMIt was my instinct to move faster. That’s how I read. But Lemire’s art kept me in check. It.

Slowed.

Me.

Down.

To.

a crawl.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 9.39.52 PMWhilst all of Twitter was…well…atwitter about the Golden Globes and best films of the year, Comic Book Reporter and man about town Tom Spurgeon tweeted something to the effect that he had read a bunch of comics that were way better than any of the films nominated for best something or another. Yay vague references to things I saw on the internet! I hope I’m half-heartedly quoted one day as I am quoting Mr. Spurgeon right now! Anyway, this is a thing that is true of Underwater Welder. It is one of the best creations of narrative art produced in the year of 2012. Not just a great comic, or a great story, but beautifully executed storytelling.

This is something that I’m going to hand to people or buy and say “This is why you should read comic books.” It’s special. It’s smart. It’s true. And it’s done in a way that is different than a film or a prose novel. It’s the pacing.  I keep going back to that, but it’s true. Lemire had total control over me while I was reading this. I was drawn to move forward, but not without taking in every beautiful detail rendered in each individual panel, or spread out across the massive splash pages and two page spreads.

Thanks to Ben and Rebecca for recommending this to me. It’s a fantastic comic, and y’all (being everyone but Ben and Rebecca, and I suppose, Mr. Lemire) should read it.

 

 

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