Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Set to Sea by Drew Weing

Is a quiet life of contemplation less worth living than a life of action and event? That's the buried question in Drew Weing's first graphic novel, Set to Sea, a small-format hardcover with each panel printed at full-page size.

(And you have to imagine that, in between that paragraph and the next one, I went and found Weing's website, where there are amazing webcomics like this one.)

A large chap -- never named -- is the hero and central character of Set to Sea. We meet him as a young man, poor and knocking around a seaside town in what seems to be the mid 19th century. He wants to be a poet, but finds himself shanghaied onto a ship, set to work, set upon by pirates, and set up as third mate of that ship in the aftermath. Though he never did, strictly speaking, "set to sea" himself -- since that implies an element of choice -- the rest of the book tells the story of his life, in a sequence of mostly silent panels, each showing one moment in that life.

It's a short book, and a small one, but it implies and contains more than itself, with its hints of a changing world (and a man who may have changed along with it), with its implied message of work and experience over contemplation and self-containment, with its Segar-esque grotesque characters and the richly detailed environments they inhabit, and with its refusal to state baldly what it means or is. Set to Sea is a book to read and contemplate on, a book to look at and think about, a book to read slowly and then to read again. It's a lovely graphic novel from a creator I hope to see a lot more from as the years go on, and I hope his own busy life affords him enough leisure and time to continue to make gemlike, poetic stories like this one.

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