The Sea

Writer / Artist
The Sea
The Sea graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 978-1-68396-149-9
  • Release date: 2011
  • English language release date: 2018
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781683961499
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

The Sea’s cover adopts an amateur, home-made look, with the illustration simultaneously suggesting a more accomplished artist. It’s a divergence maintained throughout, with all production details such as lettering non-aligned and messy, the authenticity extending to a deliberately smudged pencil credit on the title page.

Rikke Villadsen introduces us to an old fisherman, whobegins by addresses readers directly, challenging preconceptions. He’s wistful and possibly depressed, recounting a list of adventures in his sailor’s past, each represented by a tattoo. He’s then challenged by his catch, the victim as confrontational sharp stick poking at insecurities, and more stories follow, dreamlike and hallucinogenic, and allegorical as the fisherman’s sense of what he is and where he came from is stripped away. It’s a deeper work than it first seems, the boastful nature of the opening pages required to set up the remainder, as Villadsen examines the embedded idea of masculinity and learned behaviour.

The fisherman is memorably characterised via a series of portraits in which he’s twisted and tortured, hs compression into panels representing his life’s compression into boxes, and the reality of his self-belief no longer holds when it’s scrutinised. The lies he’s lived by for so long are forced out, and the sea has always been an unforgiving mistress. The patchwork cover hints at what’s within, itself allegorical with the honesty of the painting challenged by the title lettering.

However, for all the clever dialogue, layered symbolism and effective portraiture, what Villadsen has to say can be relatively simply conveyed. The choice to prompt consideration via the form rather than being straightforward is certainly valid, but Villadsen doesn’t have enough substance to hang his allegory onto, the message that’s being imparted more than explained by halfway, yet artificially dragged out to a bitter end. Making the point at such length diminishes it, but the illustrations of the timeworn fisherman will remain in the mind.