How an Indie Graphic Novel Uses Visuals to Add Symbolism

Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel ‘The Underwater Welder’ uses cool tricks and clever plotting.

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19 June 2017, 12:13am

Close-up from a panel from the Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire. Screencap via

A garbage can looms taller than Spider-man himself when he's feeling worthless. An alien sky introduces a set of paper girls to a strange new world. A roasted lizard on a stick tells the reader that the story they're about to read isn't one they'll be familiar with. There's no better medium for infusing a story with subtextual imagery than comics. In this week's episode of Strip Panel Naked, the mini-comics masterclass hosted by Hass Otsmane-Elhaou, the focus is on a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire called The Underwater Welder, and the ways the author drives home symbolism with his illustrations.

The Underwater Welder features, as the title suggests, a scuba-diving welder. And while much of the welder's life and livelihood depends on water, he's also got a pregnant wife and other things that connect him to the land. So the entire graphic novel focuses on a divide between water and land. "The way the book chooses to portray that divide, visually, is really interesting," explains Otsmane-Elhaou. "While it's a key theme of the book, [Jeff] Lemire is always stringing in this sort of series of clever panels and layouts to constantly reinforce an idea."

"You can see the water lapping up against the edge of the land, and this truck sitting there in the middle [pictured above]. It's very simple visually, but there are some key notes there that Lemire adds," says Otsmane-Elhaou. From clever placement of panel breaks that disconnect the water-obsessed character and his wife, to illustrations that draw the eye off the land and into the water, The Underwater Welder is packed with a subtle battle between land and sea.

Watch the full video and see all the cool examples below:

To see more, visit the Strip Panel Naked YouTube page, check out its Patreon page to support the series, and pre-order Hass Otsmane-Elhaou's first volume of PanelxPanel, an in-depth online magazine of comic theory, criticism, and celebration.

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