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Sunday, February 10, 2008


That Salty Air -- Tim Sievert's first graphic novel, published by Top Shelf Productions, is a parable of frustration, rage and grief, told in a style that echoes alternative cartoonists such as Charles Burns, Craig Thompson and Richard Sala. There's a strong and confident use of black ink that defines the ocean that creates the "salty air" that the protagonist, Hugh, professes to love -- but the blackness of the ocean hides depths of despair and resentment, in addition to the wondrous creatures of the deep that seem to hover around the edge of Hugh's consciousness.

It's a tale told at leisure -- at 110 pages, Sievert could have told it in a quarter of the space he chooses to fill. But like the ocean, there's room to explore, and Sievert uses it well to dig into the hidden nooks and secret crannies deep in Hugh's soul.

Two letters arrive, from the same person, on the same day. To tell you what they are or who they are from would spoil your experience of the book, so I won't. But the letters forever alter Hugh and Maryanne's understanding and occupation of the space they live in. For one, the world gets vastly more large; for the other, the ocean is reduced to a small pool of unlimited fury.

I mention Charles Burns, and I think you'll see his influence in the strangeness of the deep, the creatures so alien to our everyday experience of life, and yet as much a part of the world as we are, ourselves. Sievert's story becomes ever more stranger, the more it unfolds, and the unknowable oddness of the deepest undersea life is a fine metaphor for the ways in which we are unable to process the most profound and unwelcome moments of our life, such as the moments Hugh has to come to grips with out there on the ocean.

But there are sweet moments in life that are hard to describe and harder still to come to terms with, and deep in Hugh's falling apart, Maryanne introduces him to that truth; the ultimate question is whether he can navigate the new seas his life has revealed to him, so rich with paradox and so full of promise. That Salty Air concerns itself with Hugh's choices and his ultimate decision, and is a very good first graphic novel from a very promising young talent.



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