Comics Time: Set to Sea

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Set to Sea

Drew Weing, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, August 2010

144 pages, hardcover

$16.99

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It’s an odd little notion, the idea that you’ve lived a better, fuller life for having killed people. That’s probably a somewhat unfair aspect of Drew Weing’s good-natured, lushly drawn storybook (that’s the term the comic practically demands I use) Set to Sea–a tale of a big lummox of a poet whose lackluster verses about life on the open sea are given new verve when he’s shanghai’d into service on an actual ship–for me to seize on. After all, Weing’s bigfooted style and inviting rather than intimidating illustrative chops place him squarely in the adventure-comics tradition of Carl Barks and Jeff Smith. Why be churlish and begrudge its central character’s baptism by fire? Well, because it really is the central, transformative moment in his story. Before the pirate raid that he ends up beating back pretty much singlehandedly by slaughtering dozens of buccaneers and beating their captain to death in a rage, he’s miserable aboard his new home–complaining about the work and the rations, literally tossing his notebook full of unfinished poems into the ocean. Afterwards, he’s accepted by his shipmates, elected third mate, introduced to a world of beauty and adventure around the globe, and filled with enough genuine insight into the sailor’s life to become a hugely popular poet back on the mainland. At first I was impressed by how wordlessly nasty that central fight got, how Weing was unwilling to neuter the violence of this world. But by the time we get to the end of the book, with the now-respected poet/sailor, bearded and eyepatched, reclining by the fire of the pub from which he was once forcibly ejected, thinking back on a life well lived…well, this isn’t like Bilbo Baggins, forever trying to recapture his combat high, or Frodo Baggins, forever damaged by the horrors he witnessed and endured. It’s a dude kicking back saying “Yeah, it was all worth it.” I wish Weing had examined that assumption a little more closely.