Review of Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTitle: Trillium

Author: Jeff Lemire

Illustrator: Jeff Lemire

Publisher: Vertigo

Format: Electronic

Where I got it: Netgalley

Review:

 

I have long been a fan of Jeff Lemire’s work, particularly his creator-owned stories like The Underwater Welder and Sweet Tooth. His art — while perhaps not as visually stunning as some of the exciting illustrators in the field such as Fiona Staples, Sean Murphy, or Greg Capullo — provides a sense of unity to his comics. He is a true master at understanding the sequential nature of comics and his images evoke the right emotions and pacing that are hard to nail down.

Catching on the science fiction bandwagon with contemporary hits like Saga, Preacher, and Sex Criminals, Lemire pens a love story with the plot devices of time travel, alien cultures, and a sentient disease. One of the featured characters is a botanist named Nika Temsmith, who lives in the year 3797 when a disease has killed off all but four thousand people. Their only hope is the trillium flower, which grows wild on a planet where some mysterious aliens await Nika’s arrival. They stand guard around an Incan temple, which Nika comes to realize is more than just a pyramid of stone.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 1.45.19 PMIn the year 1921, WWI vet and English explorer, William Pike, also makes an expedition in search of the lost temple of the Incas. When natives attack his group, he finds himself face-to-face with Nika, completely unable to understand her language. Their encounter does not seem accidental and both experience a sense of deja vu, feeling as if they should know the other.

With the help of Trillium, William and Nika learn to communicate and find themselves sharing a bond with one another, leading to an adventure where their biggest adversaries are the very teams they were working with.

Trillium was released by Vertigo as an eight-issue story arc and binge-reading it in one collected volume (my preferred method of reading comics) made the story feel as connected and whole as Lemire’s recent work, The Underwater Welder. The illustrations are typical of Lemire’s style, with a sort of rough-sketched appearance. The panels are fully colored, blending a colored-pencilled and water-color appearance. There is an artistic quality to the drawings, but Lemire’s true art is in how he uses images to tell a story. Few writers understand how to use layout as well as he does and there is some good variation, ranging from templated-panel layouts to full page images with inset pictures to pages that need to be turned sideways to orient one’s self properly.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 1.47.37 PMThe main characters were rich. Nika, the altruistic and fearless scientist, was willing to disobey orders if necessary to achieve the proper ends. Yet her willingness of self-sacrifice should not be confused with a suicide mission. She is thoughtful and contemplative — empathetic to other cultures and open to love. William, suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome from the war, questions his own mind, but is willing to follow what he believes is right, even if his closest friends question his sanity.

Jeff Lemire’s venture into science fiction was a welcome one. He remains true to his style, while appealing to fans of  Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick. The plot was reminiscent of other science fiction stories and the use of an ancient pyramid for traveling through space and time bore resemblance to Stargate. Nonetheless, the story felt new and original and was executed beautifully.

For fans of science fiction — and particularly those who want a shorter story arc — Trillium is a good choice. Lemire is one of the great writers in the industry today and I found this to be an exciting read that can be enjoyed in one complete and satisfying sitting.

 

 

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Review: The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

13602241Title: The Underwater Welder

Author: Jeff Lemire

Illustrator: Jeff Lemire

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Top Shelf

Review:

Jeff Lemire’s creator-owned graphic novel, The Underwater Welder, was a pleasure to read. On one level, it is a horror story as thirty-three year-old Jack Joseph confronts the ghost that haunts his past. Even more so, it’s a psychological drama, telling the process of an english major-turned-underwater welder coming to grips with becoming a father. The horrors of Jack’s past interplay with his present fears that will ultimately end in triumph or tragedy for the young man.

The novel begins with Jack having breakfast with his pregnant wife. She is due in a month and Jack has one last diving expedition before he will take time to stay at home with their new baby. While on his dive, Jack thinks he sees another diver and then spies a pocket watch on the ocean floor. This experience becomes even more strange as he loses contact with the ship. He is eventually saved, but is sent home after a doctor shows concern for his health.

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Jack cannot let sleeping dogs lie and despite his wife’s protests, he ventures back out into the ocean to confront this mystery. His father, a neglectful drunk who died in a diving accident twenty years prior, haunts Jack’s memories as he plunges beneath the depths. Jack sees himself in his father and he now fears the man he once idolized as a child is the man he is becoming. On his journey to discover the secrets that lurk deep beneath the water’s surface, Jack must confront his past before he is destined to repeat it.

Lemire is successful on many levels in this comic. It is an entirely new take on a story of a young man struggling to break from his small town upbringing. But unlike most stories, such as those when a young farmer longs to break free from his rural shackles, Underwater Welder tells the story of a man growing up in a town where others expect him to leave. This theme parallels with Jack being unable to break from his emotional connection to his deceased deadbeat of a father. His wife, mother, and diving crew encourage Jack to move forward in life, but his self-imposed constraints bind him to the past.

Jack becomes hallucinatory in his quest, at times a ten-year-old boy, at others in the place of his father. It’s as if the ghost of his father is trying to bind himself to Jack’s soul. The surreal journey brings problems as Jack begins to have long periods of blackout. The baby’s crib remains unbuilt, meetings with the midwife are missed, and when his wife’s water breaks, Jack is MIA.

As a thirty-something father myself, I can empathize with Jack. His escapism from the responsibilities of life are reminiscent of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. And like Rabbit Angstrom, escapism comes with potentially lethal consequences. What makes Jack different from Rabbit is that he never fully deserts his responsibilities and there is a constant internal struggle as he fights to determine what kind of man he wants to be.

Lemire’s art is minimalistic, but the penned lines are effective in conveying emotion and add to the abstract telling of Jack’s quarter-life crisis. At first, much of the art seemed raw and unfinished, like I was looking at sketches of a story board, but as the novel progressed, I saw them as effective. In fact, the murky depths is where we see clarity and colored pictures, but above ground, where Jack should see clearly, is where we sense this incompleteness. The art very much complements the narrative. One example I particularly liked was the way Lemire transitioned the panels from vague to clear when Jack awoke from a blackout.

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The Underwater Welder is an intelligent and emotional novel that hit the right spot for me. For anyone looking for a cerebral story with a psychological or supernatural element to it, The Underwater Welder will not disappoint.