Last night as I sat down to read Drew Weing’s first graphic novel, Set to Sea, I didn’t realize what an impression it would leave on me. It is so much more than a hauntingly inspiring story about a poet who ends up on a sea vessel. It is so much more than page after page of highly-detailed illustrations. It feels like a small precious art book full of engravings or paintings on each page or an old illustrated maritime novel. Weing has even said that he wanted the book to be reminiscent of old gilded novels from the romantic period and that really comes across, especially with the faux-gilt lettering and embellishments on the cover and the title page.
The story reveals itself with one panel per page and with the sparse use of words, I flew through the book. I regret reading it at such a quick pace and I intend to go back and re-read it (multiple times) to more thoroughly absorb and appreciate the detailed illustrations. Weing’s art is mesmerizing. You could stare at one page for hours. Each page is carefully planned and crafted to maximize its storytelling ability and it is easy to see the love and effort that went into each line and crosshatch.
It would be easy to compare this to Sammy Harkham’s Poor Sailor or Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance. These books are loosely tied together with similar themes and artistic choice but Poor Sailor and Crogan’s Vengeance feel modern in their interpretation of the past. The tone and aesthetic of Set to Sea hearken back to a time long ago. It is as if we have discovered a long-lost relic. Furthermore, Set to Sea is a little more life-affirming than Poor Sailor. Poor Sailor is a heartbreakingly sad story that leaves you feeling morose. Although they both have circular stories that end where they begin you feel like the poet in Set to Sea has lived a happy and fulfilled life. Also, Set to Sea isn’t a kid-friendly boy adventure like Crogan’s Vengeance. There is action and adventure but it is a more character-driven story than an action-driven story. That is a long way of saying, if you enjoyed those two books then I feel certain that you will enjoy Set to Sea. It will have familiar elements but it won’t be the same read.
I don’t want to write a long and exhaustive review of this book to somehow convince you to purchase it. I just want you to pick it up and look at it. Once you do, the art will do the rest.