That Salty Air by Tim Sievert

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That Salty Air
By Tim Sievert
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Tim SievertAlternative comics tend not to age especially well. Even the best titles, birthed in the midst of some grand cultural movement, be it the hippies, or grunge or today’s indie rock-inspired books, have the tendency to lose some of their initial currency, when steeped in you-had-to-be-there cultural references. Of course this doesn’t lessen the importance of a particularly well-crafted book. A classic is still a classic, no matter how inextricably tied it is to contemporary frames of reference. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for a piece that effective conveys a sense of time and place for future posterity.

Still, one can’t help but wonder why more artists don’t invest themselves in the pursuit of timelesness. Perhaps it’s the medium’s perennial tendency toward autobiography, a genre that can’t help but be tied to its settings. Or maybe it’s the bonds to subcultures and musical genres that artist have enjoyed for the past several decades. Whatever the case may be, only a handful of artists stand out amongst those willing to divorce themselves of cultural signposts. Jim Woodring’s backcatalog immediately springs to mind, thanks to the artist’s determination to abandon as many of reality’s conventions as possible.

While Tim Sievert’s debut graphic novel, That Salty Air isn’t as entrenched in the fantastic as the majority of Woodring’s work, the author has done a fairly admirable job divorcing himself of modern day hangups, and while some sense of era can be gleaned from his characters’ dress, little if anything succumbs to the trappings of a period piece. With a handful of envelopes that appear on the book’s second page, bearing only the words “17 Seaside Dr.” for an address, Sievert seems content in convincing the readers that a firm grip on place is also not necessary for a full understanding of the story. All we need to know is that the sea will soon prove one of the book’s most powerful characters.

At the center of the story is Hugh, a fisherman whose small boat-based struggles with the ocean around him can’t help but invoke flashes of Hemingway’s troubled seaman, Santiago. Rather than doing battle with a marlin, however, Sievert’s protagonist lashes out against the inky black deep, while unleashing a similar wrath on his doting wife Maryanne in the wake of some unfortunate family news. Sievert makes it clear, from early on, that, in his world, the oft-separated templates of man vs. man and man vs. nature are one in his world, where a disruption of the sea’s delicate ecological balance will be met with swift retribution of the eye-for-an-eye variety.

It’s this realization of the sea as something of a single cognizant organism that submerges his story full into the realm of the fantastic, helping the story become a fully realized parable simultaneously tackling a wide variety of substantial issues. Fully immersed in his own mythology in the book’s climax, Sievert can’t help but succumb to a touch of heavy-handedness, and while the author perhaps overplays his character’s journey toward spiritual rehabilitation, it’s clear by the dedication that closes out the book that Sievert himself has a lot of personal emotion invested in resolving his own allegory.

By the close of That Salty Air, Sievert has painted an impressive picture, revolving around a fable that invokes the sense of self-contained mythology of some of our most timeless short stories. An impressive feat, for a rather impressive debut.

–Brian Heater

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