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5 Comics Set Underwater That You Need to Read This Summer

The best works of fiction enable their readers to escape reality. In this landlocked corner of these United States, where someone can pop off just by hearing the phrase “it’s a dry heat,” escapism can be vital to surviving the summer.

What better place can one hope to escape to than under the sea? While we wait for science to give us gills, we’re going to dive into these comics and show you there’s beauty to find beneath the surface.

Dept. H
By Matt and Sharlene Kindt
Dark Horse Comics

After mind-bending monthly Mind MGMT ended its run at Dark Horse, everyone wondered what cartoonist Matt Kindt’s next personal project would be. He returns to the publisher with partner and colorist Sharlene Kindt sharing the spotlight on the latest title, Dept. H, a murder mystery set on the ocean floor (get it? DEPTH?).

Sharlene’s use of watercolors are more than thematically important to the story’s composition, providing texture to each scene that serves to separate the reader from the story, almost like a detective examining the scene of the crime. We are a phantom to the proceedings, hoping to find piece in the protagonist’s search for clarity.

Matt’s best comics work tend to keep one foot in reality while the other dangles in the weird, the strange, and the paranormal. He and Sharlene continue that tradition in Dept. H.

Black Is The Color
By Julia Gfrörer
Fantagraphics

It’s much more difficult to describe what Julia Gfrörer’s fantastic short story is about than it is to say how it makes you feel: isolated, infinitesimal, devoid of hope, and yet, somehow, content. That complacency is hard-earned as the narrative wears you down until you accept the haunting abyss waiting just below.

Warren and a companion are cast off from their seafaring voyage-gone-wrong, a fate that’s as practical and calculated as it is cruel. The companion quickly passes. Along with isolation, starvation, and heatstroke comes the inevitable blend of imagination and reality.

Gfrörer’s work tends to challenge typical portrayals of masculinity while resonating with universal truths everyone must confront. But the way she portrays futility and doubt in her scratchy, crosshatched style makes Black Is The Color a must-read for fans of independent comics.

The Underwater Welder
By Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf

Considered to be among Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire’s greatest works (alongside the now-classic Vertigo series Sweet Tooth), The Underwater Welder tells the story of Jack, a man discontent with his life and plagued by unresolved feelings of his missing father. He’s now married and his wife is pregnant, though he would much rather spend his time at his occupation, which is the title of the story.

But then Jack has a supernatural encounter underwater, one with the promise of resolving some of the issues that plague him, but at the expense of diving deeper and further away from his life above.

This character study has earned high acclaim since its release in 2012 and helped catapult Lemire into the mainstream, where he’s worked on characters such as the X-Men, the Justice League, and Animal Man. But his best work remains his personal creations, and The Underwater Welder still sits atop that list.

The Octopus
By Leda Zawacki
Self-Published/Cup of Stars

Leda Zawacki’s surrealist tale is of a girl obsessed with facts, of the world and of her own imagination, and how she succumbs to her own fantasies.

This self-contained, self-published story can be found on Submit, Comixology’s platform for independent creators. Zawacki’s unbound creativity shows through a child’s version of the sea; her dreams begin to seep into waking moments, and soon the ocean’s call becomes too strong to ignore.

Zawacki’s use of facts both useful and silly further blend the lines of what’s real and what’s not until the two meet head-on, with an ending that’s both in step with the story’s themes while being ambiguous enough to be open to interpretation. The Octopus is a fun tale worthy of the cost of admission, and another exercise in a cartoonist expressing unfettered creativity. 

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Hellboy: The Third Wish
By Mike Mignola
Dark Horse

Long-running series have the stigma of being intimidating, most readers wanting to start from the beginning and get the whole story. With Hellboy: The Third Wish, Mike Mignola crafts a short arc that furthers the greater narrative while still serving as a stand-alone tale of the titular character kidnapped by three mermaids.

The arc stands out among the overall series because it’s a perfect setting for Mignola’s art without including the typical old English architecture and sleepy fishing villages the series tends to employ. Mythic sea creatures haunt Hellboy in the deepest trenches of the ocean, claiming that our hero has an apocalyptic destiny that must be avoided.

Of course to do that they need to kill Hellboy, which proves more difficult than not. The nuance and emotion lie just beneath the titular character’s cold demeanor, revealing that Hellboy just might bring about the horror. A quick two-issue romp in the Mignolaverse, The Third Wish is as entertaining as it is poignant. 

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