Set to Sea

by Drew Weing

Reading Review by Michael Channing

Set to Sea by Drew Weing

A down-on-his-luck poet struggles to write about life at sea from the safety of the pub. When he is shanghaied, he gets a taste of seafaring life first hand. Hard labor, bad food, pirate attacks: the life of a sailor is less than idyllic. But once he begins to write from experience, the poet is able to write truthfully.

That's pretty much the story here. You'll find a version of that on the back cover, stamped in gold. But, as with any novel, graphic or otherwise, the story is only as good as its telling. This book tells its story perfectly. Each page is a single, black-and-white panel. Drew draws his people in a style reminiscent of Popeye: long noses, exaggerated body proportions, simple faces. But the backgrounds are realistic, similar to what you would expect to find in an old woodcutting. The effect serves to place the reader fully in the setting while allowing the main character to be our everyman viewpoint. It’s a trick comics artists have been using for years. The emotional weight of the world flows through the cartoony protagonist, straight into the heart of the reader. The pirate fight early in the story is so visceral and unnerving, I had to put the book down. After the goofy, somewhat clichéd opening, I was caught unprepared for that level of emotional involvement.

As the story continues, the pages feel like a montage or a travelogue. With very little dialog, the reader must piece together the protagonist’s journey, thereby vicariously taking part in the life of a sailor. The images are beautiful. I brought the book to work and showed a colleague. He read it at his desk while I taught a class. He said he would have finished sooner, but he kept staring at the pictures, wishing he could enlarge them and hang them on his wall.

It’s a wonderful book, short enough to read in fifteen minutes, but you may end up spending more. And when the beauty, joy, and loss lodge in your brain like harpoons, you may find yourself carrying it longer still.

old timey typewriter

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