Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder reminds you, that underneath their superhero hyperbole comics truly are still an art form, capable of telling intelligent, emotive and highly personal tales without resorting to twee cliche. On the surface this tale of the titular sub mariner is a Twilight Zone style supernatural mystery about a diver who discovers a mysterious pocket watch at the bottom of the ocean and the strange link it has to his past, in particular his missing father who disappeared on Halloween in mysterious circumstances. But this rather circumspect synopsis does not do the plot justice as under the surface are fathoms worth of hidden depths that make this a truly wonderful read.
As well as dealing with this startling sub aquatic discovery, lead character Jack is also about to become a father and so is dealing with this momentous life altering moment, as well as reconciling it with his own issues about his missing father. Is he destined to repeat his own fathers mistakes and why was he drawn back to this dead end Canadian town to continue in his fathers footsteps?
This highly personal and subtly brilliant story is made even more potent as each page is drawn with a loose, expressive style of pen and ink that is filled in with subtle monochrome washes. The panel design is tight, with a key eye for design and repetition, that really gets over the minutiae and mundanity of Jack’s life out of the water. But it is juxtaposed expertly with stunning splash pages at key moments (most of them underwater) which gives the story a really epic feel just when it needs it .
In print this textured art style is wonderful, but on the iPad’s screen it is even better as every brush stroke can be seen bleeding into the very pores of the page, giving it a beautifully bleak and aquatic feel. This helps to craft not only the gloomy world of a northern Canadian diver in a dead end town but also captures to perfection the dank, cold, aquatic scenery where most of the key scenes of the book are held.
This brilliant mix of simple, stylish art and engaging story goes to show you don’t need flash computer graphics and multi-dimensional crossovers to tell a truly exciting story and makes for one of the best reads of the year.