The Underwater Welder: Interview with Jeff Lemire

The Underwater Welder Jeff Lemire
Artwork Property of Jeff Lemire

Jeff answers several questions about his famous creation, The Underwater Welder. We also have a special giveaway that allows you the chance to receive a free signed copy of this graphic novel! See details at the end of this interview to enter.

 

When did you first become interested in graphic novels, and how old were you when you began working on them?

I started reading comics at a very young age, probably four or five, and have loved them ever since. I’ve been drawing and writing stories for as long as I can remember but have been working in comics professionally for about 10 years now.

Is the protagonist’s characteristics of The Underwater Welder, Jack, directly taken from someone you know?

Not really. Most of my characters end up be amalgamations of different people I know, or outright fictions. Certainly there is more than a little of myself in Jack. Like the character, I was expecting my first child when I started working on the book and it became about that journey of becoming a parent, all the fear, apprehension and excitement that comes with that.

Some of your comic novels are known for their powerfully imaginative environments and characters – what made you decide on such a real and gritty topic like underwater welding? What were some of your influences?

I’ve always been drawn to really “blue-collar” characters. And I don’t say that in any kind of derogatory way. My dad was a farmer and a tool & die maker, as were most of the men in my family. I spent six or seven years working in his tool & die factory during the summers, so being in a work environment like that really influenced the kinds of characters I write.

Underwater welding, specifically, became an interest when I was working as a line cook in a restaurant here in Toronto. The brother of another cook I was working with was going to school to learn underwater welding, and when he told me about it, I was immediately struck by both the visual and thematic potential of it.

Jack Joseph welds offshore on an oil rig. What types of research did you do to learn about the work life of offshore commercial divers?

I wish I had done more, to be honest. At the time, my wife was expecting, so going off and doing intensive hands-on research wasn’t an option. So what I learned was mostly from online research, and what I didn’t know I had to fictionalize. Looking back now, I would do things much differently. If I were doing the book today I’d certainly do much more hands-on research. Real welders will probably laugh at the way I depict things because they are so inaccurate. But I do think it works on an emotional level for the story I wanted to tell.

Jack Joseph can fix just about anything underwater. Have you ever witnessed a diver working on underwater construction or seen video footage?

Video footage yes, I looked at a lot as visual reference and was fascinated by it. But I never saw an underwater welder in person.

Underwater Welding Jeff Lemire
Artwork Property of Jeff Lemire

The diving suit that Jack Joseph wears has an “old school” appeal to many underwater welders. Did you want the design to reflect the time period of the plot, or mirror other aspects of your story?

The book plays around with time a lot. Time and memory. So I wanted the diving suit to have sort of a retro feel. And those old diving helmets are a lot of fun to draw.

Many of your scenes underwater have lots of gray shades mixed in with the blacks and whites. How does this change the emotional mood?

I deliberately used “washes” of gray tones whenever the character is underwater, and kept the artwork black and white only when he was on the surface.This helped give the underwater stuff a “wetter” look and a more dream-like look, which suited the story and themes. I also used a lot of big open panels underwater as opposed to tighter grid-like layouts on the surface. This was to give the ocean a feel of enormity.

Then, as the character’s life unravels, the “dream-like” feel of the underwater scenes starts to melt into the surface scenes.

Jack Joseph is haunted by the death of his father, who was also a diver. Do you feel that diving can “get in your blood” from one generation to another?

I definitely think it’s the kind of profession that can. In fact, I think a lot of jobs can be like that. We emulate our fathers a lot of times and follow in their footsteps.

After researching this field, what do you feel is the most difficult part of being an underwater welder?

It does seem like there is a lot of time away from family which must be hard, and there is a certain amount of physical danger involved as well.

 

Award-winning Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire is the creator of the acclaimed monthly comic book series Sweet Tooth published by DC/Vertigo and the award-winning graphic novel Essex County published by Top Shelf. He published The Underwater Welder in 2012.

Giveaway

Jeff is giving away 2 free, signed copies of The Underwater Welder.

Rules: To enter into the giveaway, include a comment or question in the comment section below concerning either The Underwater Welder or another one of Jeff’s comic novels. Two winners will be chosen in a drawing and contacted through email.

Deadline: November 28, 11:59 pm (CST).

42 thoughts on “The Underwater Welder: Interview with Jeff Lemire”

    • I agree, Mike! I loved interviewing him; Jeff definitely understands the process of creating rich characters and plot through his drawings.

  1. Jeff, I’m a huge fan of yours, and I really enjoy your DC work. If you could write and draw any DC character(s) that you haven’t already worked on for an on-going series, who would it be?

  2. I’ve been a fan of Jeff Lemire’s works since discovering Essex County. I’ve also enjoyed Trillium that just wrapped up earlier this year. He has dabbled in some superhero comics but it’s his work with books like The Underwater Welder and Sweet Tooth that I like better. Lastly, I am pleasantly surprised when I realized that this is NOT a comic book related site. 😀

    • Insightful, Adrian! Why do you like The Underwater Welder and Sweet Tooth better?

      And yes – my site definitely isn’t comic-book related, but there’s always room to diversify your readership, right? 🙂

      • I guess that I gravitate towards what is referred to as the independent, creator-owned, non-superhero comics because I find it more engaging, stimulating and emotionally gripping. And of course, I’m all for expanding and diversifying comic book readership!

          • Of course! It makes me glad whenever writers/artists that I like decide to create something through Image Comics which has been publishing a lot of awesome stuff in recent years.

  3. Really liked his Green Arrow run, and I’ve been meaning to get into more non-superhero books. Always wanted to check this out, along with his Trillium series.

  4. Really liked his Green Arrow run, and I’ve been meaning to get into more non-superhero books. Always wanted to check this out, along with his Trillium series.

  5. Love everything Lemire has done. Sweet Tooth was incredible, but this and Essex County are far and away my favorites. Such real characters.

  6. Love everything Lemire has done. Sweet Tooth was incredible, but this and Essex County are far and away my favorites. Such real characters.

  7. I loved his work on trillium, that was the first novel I read from Jeff Lemire. I became a total fan of his drawings and the way it fits with his stories !

  8. I loved his work on trillium, that was the first novel I read from Jeff Lemire. I became a total fan of his drawings and the way it fits with his stories !

  9. If you could choose someone else instead of yourself to draw to this book, who would it be? Maybe a Ben Templesmith

  10. If you could choose someone else instead of yourself to draw to this book, who would it be? Maybe a Ben Templesmith

  11. The Underwater Welder is a wonderful emotionally touching book. If you enjoyed it, I highly recommend any of Jeff Lemire’s other creator-owned titles. Sweet Tooth is one of my favorite titles, but any of Lemire’s books are worth checking out – they all have this deep emotional core that makes the characters feel real and draws in the reader immediately. I’ve never read any of Lemire’s books that he hasn’t drawn, but I’m looking forward to his new Image title, Descender, that is coming out in March with Dustin Nguyen. It looks promising.

  12. The Underwater Welder is a wonderful emotionally touching book. If you enjoyed it, I highly recommend any of Jeff Lemire’s other creator-owned titles. Sweet Tooth is one of my favorite titles, but any of Lemire’s books are worth checking out – they all have this deep emotional core that makes the characters feel real and draws in the reader immediately. I’ve never read any of Lemire’s books that he hasn’t drawn, but I’m looking forward to his new Image title, Descender, that is coming out in March with Dustin Nguyen. It looks promising.

  13. The Underwater Welder has impacted me more than anything I’ve ever read before. It is written so well and the art fits the story perfectly.

  14. The Underwater Welder has impacted me more than anything I’ve ever read before. It is written so well and the art fits the story perfectly.

  15. You made me want to write comics. This book was a major inspiration to me, all the more powerful because I read it immediately after the birth of my son, Atticus. You continue to inspire me with your writing. I loved Sweet Tooth and your run on Animal Man. What creators inspire you, and were there any who influenced your career in comics?

  16. You made me want to write comics. This book was a major inspiration to me, all the more powerful because I read it immediately after the birth of my son, Atticus. You continue to inspire me with your writing. I loved Sweet Tooth and your run on Animal Man. What creators inspire you, and were there any who influenced your career in comics?

  17. Not sure if it was a moment of emotional vulnerability, or more likely, the intrinsic gravity of this story, but the Underwater Welder brought tears to my eyes. Jeff has a way with narratives, and I (kind of) fondly admit the Sweet Tooth series also gave me dystopian nightmares for about two weeks which were rather unpleasant but TOTALLY worth it.

    • Nightmares and tears – Jeff certainly has a way with his stories! With all of this emotional ammo, I think Hollywood should be inspired to make a movie from one.

  18. Not sure if it was a moment of emotional vulnerability, or more likely, the intrinsic gravity of this story, but the Underwater Welder brought tears to my eyes. Jeff has a way with narratives, and I (kind of) fondly admit the Sweet Tooth series also gave me dystopian nightmares for about two weeks which were rather unpleasant but TOTALLY worth it.

  19. I really enjoyed Underwater Welder. It was bleak and weird like a lot of Lemire’s stuff and I just love it. I could study those inks all day.

  20. I really enjoyed Underwater Welder. It was bleak and weird like a lot of Lemire’s stuff and I just love it. I could study those inks all day.

  21. Re. Essex County, I felt it had an almost filmic narrative. I actually dreamt of it as a movie when I first read it. Did it help you in the creation having been to film school, or did you have this story in your head years before already? Cheers.

  22. Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY was the first graphic novel I ever read. I’ve been reading novels for years, and after EC, my experience with books was widened immensely. I’m forever grateful! And forever a fan!

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