It's the story of Jack Joseph, a deep-sea welder who works on an oil-rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. He's about to become a father for the first time, but his joy is marred by the looming anniversary of his father's dive-accident death, 20 years before. This tragedy from Jack's boyhood haunts him, overshadowing his impending fatherhood, becoming an obsession. This comes to a head with a deep-sea reverie in which Jack hears a ghostly voice from the past, and passes out.
What unspools is a scary, sad, sweet story, the sort of thing you'd find in the very best Twilight Zone episodes (a comparison drawn by Lost producer Damon Lindelof in his introduction to the volume). Underwater Welder is a much more ethereal, otherworldly story that the fast-paced Sweet Tooth, much more like Lemire's earlier volume for Top Shelf, the critically acclaimed Essex County. But where Essex County left me a bit flat -- too abstract for me -- Underwater Welder is just the right blend of action and abstraction, and greatly enhanced by Lemire's ability to signal movement, time and distance through clever arrangement of his panels on the page.
It helps that this is a beautifully designed book, reasonably priced -- but even if it was a photocopied zine it would still haunt and amaze; and even at twice the price it would be a stone bargain.