book review: the underwater welder

The Underwater Welder is Jeff Lemire’s story of being scared of becoming a father. It’s so good. The introduction to the book sets it up as “the greatest Twilight Zone episode that was never produced.” I like that conceit but that makes it sound a lot more self-contained than it was.

Jack and Susan are expecting a baby in the next month. Jack keeps running off to his work on the oil rig, as an underwater welder. We know something bad happened between him and his father at Halloween some year, and it’s keeping him attached to the loneliness of solitary work in the ocean instead of the flesh and blood people surrounding him. It’s an ominous and looming kind of story that pushed in on my chest as I read it.

Lemire draws the book with the same kind of scratchy style he used in Essex County, but here it feels different. Maybe it’s just all the water that makes the wobbly lines feel like they’re the distortions of seeing everything through bubbles. The big splash pages work very well, especially the ones with the floods of memories coming in like clouds of angular bubbles.

It’s a beautifully done book. Highly recommended.

book review: friends with boys

Faith Erin Hicks first published Friends With Boys as a webcomic, which is how I read it. It’s a great story about Maggie, a homeschooled girl heading to high school (in Nova Scotia). She’s not alone there; her three older brothers went through the same transition, but somehow it all seems different. And she’s being haunted by a silent ghost.

The story is about Maggie making friends and dealing with the aftermath of relationships other people have left for her to stumble over, including her mother who doesn’t live with the family any more. There’s also interesting discussion of horror movies, ghosts and home-schooling.

I love the black and white art for this book. It’s a great mix of textures. One of my favourite recurring bits is Maggie’s map of the school that gets annotated. I think it only shows up twice, but it’s a great visual for how a person gets used to a place.

Obviously there are comparisons we can make to Anya’s Ghost (which is a little more cartoony in its art and has a very different kind of ghost in its story) and I hope that Hicks’ book gets the same sort of attention and accolades.

book review: mercury

Mercury is a comic by Hope Larson that takes place in Nova Scotia in two timelines. In 2009, Tara is new to Grade 10 in the town she grew up in. Her mother is off in Alberta working in the tar sands. She meets a boy who looks just like her and they go looking for buried treasure. In 1859 Josie’s farming family (Tara’s ancestors) take in a young prospector who Josie’s mother thinks is shady and up to no good. The intersection between the stories comes in the form of a quicksilver filled pendant.

It’s a very cleanly drawn book and the similarity in appearance between Tara and Ben works well. I liked the jumps between the timelines, but on the whole it felt like the story needed something more. It wasn’t quite understated enough to play that as a strength but not enough happened. I do feel we got to know Tara well, but Josie much less so.

But yeah. It wasn’t bad. Good Canadian content and all, but nothing I’d be rushing to put in people’s hands.