Jeff Lemire has been one of my favorite writers and artists since I first stumbled across Essex County a few years ago. His ability to create such captivating stories that keep the reader on the edge of their seat wondering what will happen next and his sketchy art that captures the essence of the human characters so well, keeps me coming back for more. When I saw that Jeff had Underwater Welder coming out this year I eagerly preordered it without even reading the description. All I needed to see was that stunning cover image, the eyes of a diver peering out of his welding suit just watching us so intently. I cracked open the book as soon as it arrived and dived into the tale and was swept away.
Let’s take a seemingly average 33 year old male named Jack Joseph. He has a steady job as an underwater welder on an oilrig, he has a seemingly happy marriage, and their first child is on the way. All in all a rather happy tale. But the thoughts of his father who disappeared twenty years ago on Halloween began to invade his dreams, both waking and sleeping. Jack begins to see and hear visions from the past, and the real world becomes less and less real. And then on Halloween, the dreams become real and reality becomes a dream. And Jack must find the way out of his dreams before everything he cherishes vanishes forever.
As I mentioned above, I love Jeff’s writing style and this book is no exception. The story is like nothing I’ve read before, as Jeff weaves a tale of family, hope, mystery, and the stuff of nightmares all together to create a powerful tale. The story is part science fiction, reminding readers of the best of the mind bending series the Twilight Zone, and it’s also part classic family tale like Little House on the Prairie. Jeff just creates these compelling characters that play off of each other really well. We have the main character of Jack, the father to be who slowly seems to be losing his mind, but really wants to do what is best for his family. And then we have Jack’s father who vanished all of those years ago, who slowly succumbed to alcohol, but really did want what was best for his son. And their two world collide in such a powerful fashion years latter that it makes you stop and think on what you cherish and treasure the most in the world.
The artwork in this story is absolutely beautiful. Lemire shows a deft hand at capturing the emotions and expressions of his characters and the world that surrounds them with pen and ink. Each line on the craggy faces of the characters shows their age, experience, wisdom, and regrets at life gone by. And in the landscapes you see the beauty and the harshness of the world that they live in. Jeff’s style works particularly well for this story, as the sketchy line work and the ink washes create the perfect moody atmosphere and the roiling sea. It’s just pitch perfect and adds those little extras while reading the story that keep readers on the edge of their seats as they wait to see what happens next to Jack.
I have to admit I haven’t read much of Sweet Tooth or Jeff’s other comic works, but I’m hunting them down now. And I can’t wait to see what he does next. If you like the Twilight Zone and stories of mystery, family, and hope then this one is for you. 5 out of 5 stars.