CANADIAN CARTOONIST Jeff Lemire made a name for himself with three graphic novels released by Portland publisher Top Shelf: The brick-sized Essex County trilogy is three interlocking stories of life in one rural Canadian county, full of gruff, hatchet-faced men with difficulty expressing their feelings and awkward boys who hide in fantasies of comic books. And hockey. Lots and lots of hockey. Lemire has since moved on to higher-profile work for DC Comics, as a writer for Animal Man and Justice League Dark.
With The Underwater Welder, Lemire returns to Top Shelf to publish a book that feels more like his Essex County work than anything he's done since. That is to say: It's personal, it's black and white, and all the men have very craggy noses.
Jack Joseph works off the coast of Nova Scotia as a welder on an oil rig—his father was a diver, and so Jack became a diver too, though his father was lost at sea when Jack was just a boy. Jack himself is about to have a child, but instead of staying home with his super-pregnant wife, he heads back out to sea, where a diving accident sends Jack searching for clues to his own past.
In his intro, Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof compares Welder to a Twilight Zone episode, and there's something to that: The book is pervaded with a nerve-wracking sense of things present but unseen, with each page moving the reader closer and closer to understanding what Jack Joseph is really searching for.
The ending is a touch unsatisfying, but overall, it's a work that fans of Essex County should appreciate. (If you're not a fan of Essex County—start there.)