In this feature we take a look at Jeff LeMire, the incredibly talented graphic artist who has penned the stunning graphic novel The Underwater Welder.
Sometimes people just have scary talent. They are so able to communicate a depth of feeling, a state of mind through their words or art that it moves you and stays with you for a long time afterwards. Jeff LeMire is someone who posses that kind of talent. I was first introduced to his work through a friend who gave me The Essex County trilogy on my iPad. The writing and the artwork combined perfectly, whispering it’s story through barren vistas and one on one dialogue, echoing the loneliness of it’s protagonists. After reading that stunning collection I could barely wait to buy Lemire’s 2012 publication The Underwater Welder. Since reading the trilogy it’s artwork imprinted upon my mind, making it impossible to forget.
The Underwater Welder is dubbed ‘The most spectacular episode of The Twilight Zone that was never produced,’ – this is because of the surreal and haunting elements of LeMire’s story. The narrative focuses on Jack, his relationship with his heavily pregnant wife, his career (which keeps drawing him back to the water), all the while haunted by memories of his father. This is not a typical ‘daddy-issues’ tale though, and though as a young boy, Jack alternates between living with his mother and visiting his estranged father it is never cliche and LeMire captures the tension, the subtle emotion and sweetness of a father-son relationship in the moments they have together. This relationship is captured and made more immersive too by LeMire’s distinctive art style which at first glance may seem a little childish, but in truth, is hugely visceral and grande in scale. The moments in which a single image sprawls across a page or two have a significant impact and are composed with impossible beauty.
I wanted to write this article to express the joy I had reading a serious story in graphic novel form. Now, no doubt, there are many serious narratives within graphic novels and I know there are large communities who are advocates for their genre to be taken more seriously. But as I personally read more books than anything else and therefore post about books more often, I wanted to share this on the blog, expressing to other book readers the strengths of this format. This is a storytelling blog after all and I feel this story could be told no better than how it was ultimately produced. That really is the best feeling when enjoying a story, be it a book, graphic novel or film, when you can recognise the importance of the form that story is told in. It is usually the flaw of book>film adaptations, game>book adaptations etc, that they lack a certain conviction, a passion for their form. I hope no-one dares to try and adapt this piece of work. The use of space, of the black and white and flashbacks in this is story is an unparalleled example of content and form existing in perfect harmony.
And yet, with all the praise I have lavished upon this novel the bottom line is this: it’s a fantastic story. It’s not just a good comic, that’s not why I have written up about it. It’s a great story in it’s own right, up there standing it’s ground among well written books. You feel a growing unease when following Jack’s story and a niggling worry for his wife who seems to be falling into the background in the face of Jack’s captivation with the water and drive to pursue memories of his father.
I would urge anyone to buy this. There are many pages which you could rip out of its binding and frame upon the wall, yet of course you won’t because LeMire’s story as a whole is captivating, emotional and mysterious, willing the reader to turn page after page and unravel the mysteries therein.
If you’ve read this graphic novel or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
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