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The Underwater Welder

by Jeff Lemire

Acclaimed graphic novelist Jeff Lemire  leaves behind the flatlands of Essex County for a tale of what lies in the depths of a troubled mind. Confronted with the anxieties of impending fatherhood, Jack, a diver for an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia, avoids his wife and unborn son by literally plunging into his work. Jack’s own father was a diver, a junk salvager presumed drowned when Jack was just a child. On the eve of his son’s birth, Jack is forced to discover the truth behind his father’s disappearance or be damned to repeat his old man’s mistakes.

The story is told through Lemire’s characteristic scratchy black and white lines, to which he adds splashes of grey watercolours, rendering a convincing impression of perpetually overcast Maritime locales and murky depths. Much of the artwork relies on symbolism, which helps capture the loneliness that results from obsession, whether for one’s job or an unresolved past. And yet the actual drama moves at such a slow pace that the images aren’t as enthralling as they could be. Flashback sequences featuring Jack and his ghostly father are peppered throughout the book, bringing us closer to the truth by minute degrees, but in scenes that are so static, so similar in their visuals, that they grow wearisome.

Far stronger are moments in which Lemire matches his art with Jack’s straightforward first-person narration. In this context he reveals Jack’s personal feelings about family, the nature of memory, and the past. It’s a shame there are not more of these passages, as they  work to ground the story, forging a connection with a reader who is otherwise frequently left cold by the slow-ticking plot.