You walk into the bathroom. Ploink…Ploink…Guuuusssshhhhhhh as you turn on the bath tap. It’s cold outside. The last embers of the sun fade into the dark as you take off your dressing gown. A shudder ripples down your back as the water slowly fills the bath. Splash… Splash…you lay down in the tub with your head resting on the back. The water slowly rises. Your ears gently pop as the little bit of air desperately tries to escape. The outside world fades into an obscure muffle. You look up and the water blurs your vision. You drop your eyelids. Guuuusssshhhhhhh…Ploink……….Ploink……….Ploink
It is in this moment where the Underwater Welder sets its stage. The ethereal insensate world that exists when you submerge yourself in water. It’s a little eerie, especially in the dark and cold, you may lose yourself down there
Jeff Lemire has written many a project and has had success with a number of independent books including Sweet Tooth and Essex County. He currently works for DC comics and is working on Animal Man and Green Arrow. The Underwater Welder is a book he has been working on for a long period of time and only recently managed to complete it. He is the artist as well as the writer and creates a deeply comfortable and anxious atmosphere. The book focuses upon Jack who is an underwater welder in a small costal town. He is a middle-aged man with an expecting wife. He is constantly distracted and his shoulders droop with the weight of their burden. His father drowned at Halloween when Jack was a small boy; he too was an underwater welder. This is a book about the bond between a father and his son.
Taking on full creativity allows the perfect synchronicity between dialogue and art. Lemire makes full use of this as his writing is perfectly balanced. The book has an atmosphere and it is one of longing recompense. The small sea town is perpetually wet and miserable. It fits Jack’s personality perfectly, as we delve into the depths of his mind and the sea. There are moments in this book that are actually quite scary as the unknown fills the many voids Lemire seems to depict.
Jeff has an artistic style his own. He creates the atmosphere by zooming in and out of scenes, to allow a revelation or a surprise to slowly emerge. Jack and his father are drawn exceptionally tired. The facial lines, the sunken slanted eyes, the small bits of stubble, the scraggy hair make for a haggered look. It is a black and white book, which has great textured shading in the skyline and underwater scenes. This adds to the misery of the rainy little town and the mysteries of the deep water. Somewhere there always seems to be a tap that is dripping.
There are phenomenal uses of panels that emphasis the fear and confusion felt by Jack. There are a couple of flashback/dream sequences that are emotionally breath taking. The panels on these pages are deliberately altered in order to play in the fact that this may be all in Jack’s head. They appear random and of all shapes, with images of his memory. If you look carefully they all have a sense of order and a story being told.
The dialogue is relatively minimal in the whole book because there are not too many conversations with Jack and his family and work colleagues. When the conversations do occur, they are simple and to the point. They need to be as this is what Jack is like. The important scenes are played out through pencilling and are shades well. The intensity and suspense is built by Jack’s internal monologue together with the gradually intensifying panels and plot. This is a book that I could not put down through fear that if I did, and then things would turn out badly for Jack. It is engrossing and you feel part of the world that Jack inhabits.
There are a couple of underlying themes in this book and the father and son rapport is key to it. The classic tome of a father rejecting his child is explored in immense emotional detail. The added mysteries of water really develop the tension and it really grips you. Rarely have I found a perfectly balanced atmospheric book as this. The sound affects resonate through my mind as I see the darkness ascend, as Jack descends into the sea. Wilful optimism is constantly challenged as the artwork becomes wetter and colder. The light above you slowly fades as you swim deeper and deeper into the depths. This isn’t just a book that is to be read, it is a book that must be experienced.