Set to Sea by Drew Weing

Categories:  Reviews

Set to Sea
By Drew Weing
Fantagraphics


drewweingsettoseacover“There’s something missing.” It’s a statement of frustration, more than anything else. Inspiration, it seems, is rarely found while going through the paces. It must be sought out. Or if you’re lucky enough, perhaps some evening it will hit you over the head—sometimes rather literally, as in the case of Drew Weing’s unnamed protagonist, a lummox of a novice poet attempting in vain to create something of some significance.

There’s a simple message here, of course: it’s necessary to live life before one can accurately depict it in verse (or, taken more broadly, any artistic pursuit). And surely there’s something to be said for this age-old sentiment-that perhaps, in the case of the aforementioned poet, late night at some darkened harbor bar isn’t the best place to pen sweeping epics about the sea—not with the waves crashing against the pier a mere feet away.

It’s fitting, in a sense, that Set to Sea shares a title with the book of poetry penned by Weing’s protagonist upon discovering precisely that missing thing on the deck of an embattled pirate ship. At its core, this book imbued with appropriately romantic notions of what living one’s life truly means.

There are plenty of trials along the way, of course—both physical and mental. After being hit over the head, kidnapped, and made to swab decks and the like, the poet struggles to fit in amongst more seasoned crew members. The words, too, refuse to come, as he hurls his notebook into the sea in a fit of frustration. Redemption comes, ultimately, in the heat of battle, but not before losing at eye to a musket.

With success in battle comes acceptance, first amongst crewmates and later the literati, the poet’s exterior transforming along with his insides, a customary pirate’s patch covering the lost eye and a long white beard filling out his chin. The book is the latest in a small glut of graphic novels romanticizing the open sea, including Tim Sievert’s That Salty Air and Kevin Cannon’s Far Arden.

And it really is the pirate’s life that is the focus of most of Set to Sea’s awe. Weing never dwells too long on the inner workings of his poet. There are some failed drafts and outward frustrations, but Set to Sea is a book extremely focused on its surroundings, each full-page panel presented more in the style of an illustrated plate than a comics page. In fact, much of the middle of the book does away with dialog altogether. And it’s precisely on these wordless pages that book is at its most sweeping.

Weing is something of a classicist in his artistic approach, from E.C. Segar influence he clearly wears on his anchored sleeve to his garish use of hatching—but the style suits the subject matter quite well.  Much care has clearly gone into every page. And the result is a satisfying, if brief read. Not bad for a debut–and Weing didn’t even have to lose an eye in the process.

–Brian Heater