Storytelling Is Not Dead: Graphic Novel Review – The Underwater Welder

Please check out my previous Storytelling posts here.  And my 365 Reviews here.

Heading back to my roots this week and offering up some reviews of great graphic novels for Teen Read Week.  I might be a week late, but the celebration never ends!

Title: The Underwater Welder  

Author(s): Jeff Lemire

Publisher: Top Shelf (2012)

Age Rating: 18+ (13+ if you can look past a few words)

Early this school year, by a stroke of luck, I bought a large amount of graphic novels for $90.00.  It was a great deal!  One of the books in the lot was a Lemire book that I had been wanting to buy: The Underwater Welder.

Having finished grading all of my seniors’ first major assessments, I decided to give a bit of my time back to reading and reviewing a few books that have been on my list.  The Underwater Welder got out first.

An emotional journey into loss and monotony, The Underground Welder is wonderful in the way that most art that takes us to places that make us slightly uncomfortable can be.

The story follows an underwater welder that works on an oilrig off the coast of Nova Scotia; the welder’s name is Jack Joseph.  Jack has a wife and a little on the way, but Jack spends most of his time, burying his emotions in his work, in a diving suit, surrounded by his tools and the weight of literal tons of water on his shoulders.

The book flashes about in time, as Jack explores his past, trying to piece together a puzzle in order to help him unwind the mystery of his father’s disappearance, when Jack was a young boy, in the same waters he dives while welding…which makes it feel like Jack is literally attempting to assemble a past that he cannot let go.

The art is honest, black & white Lemire with a large panel/page layout that makes the ingestion of this book as easy as falling into the water that covers many of the splash pages (pun intended).  It is no secret that I am a fan of Lemire’s work.  His pacing and layouts are similar to Christophe Chaboute, and those two guys get pacing about as good as anyone in the industry.

I will read Lemire if he comic-scripts the phone book.  A literary comics artist with a flair for the surreal, Jeff Lemire is cannon, and he should be included in any serious comics classroom.  Our memories and emotions bend and blur as we age, and Lemire captures that feeling with images like no other.  When we discuss why we should teach with comics, we should discuss books like The Underwater Welder.  Authors can create these feelings with words, however, to invoke this sort of personal reflection with images is a talent and skill that should be analyzed and discovered.

Besides the inclusion of a few four-letter-words, this book is PG-13: no nudity, no major violence.  So unless you have a major aversion to the f-word, keep this one on your classroom shelf.

Mr. Lemire, if you are reading this…thank you.  Your work inspires and shapes generations of readers and creators.  I’d love to bend your ear on storytelling over a meal or coffee someday!

Happy reading!

Eric

Twitter: @comics_teacher

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