Waterwise

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a comics shop run by my pal, Carr. Carr and I have been friends for a long time, and if anyone knows my taste in comics, he does. I asked Carr to recommend something different for me to read, something with a story or theme that's a bit off the beaten path. He recommended I check out Waterwise. "Give it a try," he said, "it will put you in an interesting mood." I looked through the book. It was a bit slim for its $14.95 cover price, but the art was pleasantly unique and after all Carr recommended it to me. What the heck, right?

After reading Waterwise, I felt I was in Carr's debt. Waterwise is a lyrical and moody graphic novel of hope and joy and passion for life. It tells the story of Jim, an unemployed artist who finds himself hitchhiking around, pretty much directionless in his life after some earlier frustrations. Returning to his family's cabin to reflect on things, Jim runs into his old neighbor Emily out of dumb luck. Emily used to live near the cabin and is Jim's age. At one time Jim had a deep crush on Emily, who has since grown to experience troubles of her own. Divorced and with a young daughter, Emily has also returned to the cabin to find some peace in her life. What follows their meeting is the stuff of this wonderful book.

Joel Orff tells a wonderfully impressionistic tale of these two people who find a short moment of pure idyllic joy in the midst of their challenging lives. In their small adventures, both characters begin to find the peace they crave, embracing the pleasant joys of the past to resurrect real pleasures in their lives. Orff's art is as impressionistic as his story. The book seems to be suffused with black. Not a mysterious noir black or a foreboding black, but a black that's somehow warm and comforting, peaceful and calming. The art takes its time to reveal its mysteries, but it does so because sometimes life is best experienced slowly, languidly. Sometimes it's better to let things come to you instead of going after things. The art is the perfect companion for Orff's languid and calm story.

The art starts out feeling awkward, but it's striking how much subtlety it begins to take on. Jim's unrequited love for Emily becomes clear as a reader studies Jim's face, and the ending is mysteriously subtle, a Mona Lisa smile of sorts.

Rereading the book closely, there's even an extra level of subtle story revealed, I think. I don't want to ruin the book for anyone, but if you do read it, pay attention to the lines that parallel the beginning and end of the book. Is there a subtle twist that's implied there?

This is a wonderfully unique and personal graphic novel from the pen and brush of Joel Orff. Thanks again, Carr.

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