I still remember the very afternoon when I first encountered one of Jeff Lemire’s works. I tend to spend my lunch breaks at the mall and as you might guess, I frequently end up checking out bookstores during such trips. So there I was, carefully examining what’s new on the shelves, looking for things I might have missed during my last visit. That time, I checked the bottom shelf of the graphic novels section hoping to find a hidden gem; I was not disappointed.
I pulled out Lemire’s Underwater Welder from a row of books that seemed to have been forgotten, tucked away beneath Superman, the Walking Dead and the other more popular books that were deemed worthy of the more visible shelf space. At the time, I had no idea what it was about. I don’t have any particular interest in underwater construction either, but the cover just drew me in.
The story is about a man who struggles with the demands of his job while trying so desperately to be a good husband as he deals with the pressures of his impending fatherhood. As everything seems to be falling apart, a supernatural encounter at the bottom of the ocean sends him to a Twilight Zone type of world.
I would describe Lemire’s art as rugged – not the most technical, not the smoothest drawings you’ll see in today’s comics. But his style communicates the human emotion so strongly. The brilliance of his drawings is that they have the ability to be so striking, so effective in delivering the message in spite of being remarkably simple. The impeccable use of the eyes, some well-placed lines on the face and you find yourself empathizing with the character.
The use of black and white also adds to the emotion of the book by creating an eerie atmosphere, characteristic of his earlier works.
Lemire can write about the most mundane things and still manage to captivate his audience through his emotionally charged works. Later on I picked up Essex County, his first graphic novel under Top Shelf Productions and a predecessor of Underwater Welder.
Again I got more of those expressive looks and Lemire’s trademark gloomy atmosphere.
It never gets old though, and it’s no surprise he was able to transition into mainstream comics with his masterful storytelling. Since releasing his earlier works under Top Shelf Productions, Jeff Lemire has worked for various comic book publishers including Vertigo, DC Comics and Image.