That Salty Air (Top Shelf)

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thatsaltyair-header.gif"Not since Bryan Lee O'Malley's Lost At Sea has a premiere made me feel so excited for a sophomore release."

 

110 pgs. B&W; $10

(W / A: Tim Sievert)

This book is great, but there's one flaw.

That Salty Air is 24-year-old Tim Sievert's debut graphic novel. The problem with debuting into a field that's only started to be taken seriously by a fair amount of the mainstream is that the artists who brought it into said mainstream are still cranking out some of its most revered pieces, making it relatively difficult for a newcomer to take hold with anything less than a groundbreaking work.

The only flaw with That Salty Air is that it isn't absolutely groundbreaking. It is so many other things, though. It's entertaining, well-planned, and, overall, great. Sievert's attention to detail not only in art but also in storytelling and development is obvious and admirable. The book is full of symbolism but lacks pretension. It really is a great debut.

The cover to That Salty Air by Tim Sievert. Click for a larger image. Not since Bryan Lee O'Malley's Lost At Sea has a premiere made me feel so excited for a sophomore release. That Salty Air is about Hugh, a fisherman who copes with his mother's drowning death by turning against the ocean. First he avoids it and tells his wife to do the same. But when he has to fish to keep from losing his home he takes to the sea and ferociously attacks everything in it.

The ocean in That Salty Air is similar to the one in The Old Man and the Sea, but Sievert isn't as bitter as Hemingway. The ocean is there, it takes lives and can't be controlled, and our hero can barely be blamed for turning away from it. But the water is a fact of life for Hugh. He has to go back out on the water.

With large panels, sometimes only one or three to a page, Sievert offers a great parable for dealing with loss, or anything else that's unpleasant but completely unavoidable. The story is complimented by wonderful art that, much like the book, isn't revolutionary but is still quite excellent.

Sievert's use of positive and negative space strengthens the story's subtext of balance in nature and life, and every so often there are small subtleties that show true brilliance. For example, when the mailman peers into Hugh's front window, we see it from the inside of the house and part's of the mailman's word balloon are covered up by the window pane and walls, as if the words are outside with their speaker.

By entering a medium while his influences are still more or less in their prime, Sievert is taking a chance, but if he's anything like them he'll keep improving. That's part of the beauty of this style of comic (call it graphic novels, independent comics, whatever). Unless every book becomes nothing but whining, autobiographical and more personal reality-based fiction comics will probably always offer something new and worth reading. No matter how many Craig Thompsons, Chris Wares, Charles Burns or Jeffrey Browns there are, there's still room for another similar voice, even if it's still slightly in the shadows. | Gabe Bullard

 

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