Social Anxiety And A Whole Lot Of Laughs In Deep-Ender #1

by James Ferguson

We’ve seen comedic actors like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams make the jump to drama with surprise and success. Can the same be said for horror comic writers? John Lees, known for his terrifying comics like Sink, And Then Emily Was Gone, and Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare, is stretching some different muscles with Deep-Ender, a romantic comedy about swimming.

Illustrated by Jules Rivera, the series centers on Ollie Stigall, a man who suffered a near death experience that has left him terrified of the water. In an effort to face his fears, he joins a local rundown pool with mixed results…until he meets Silvia Morena.

So, does Lees successfully jump genres into the romantic comedy space? In short: Yes. His writing is often character-driven and his horror comics have an added layer of terror in them because we’re invested in the characters’ lives. The same can be said for Deep-Ender, although Ollie is facing a different kind of terror. His is more real and focused on many things we’ve all encountered, such as speaking to someone you’re attracted to.

This kind of anxiety is something we can all relate to and it’s captured perfectly in Deep-Ender. Rivera’s artwork adds a fun, slightly cartoony spin to it, exaggerating details, such as how great a swimmer Silvia is. This is shown with the water creating huge waves in her wake as she flies back and forth like a motorboat while also simultaneously leaving a trail of fire.

This quality extends to the characters themselves who are overly expressive. For example, Edward Bogton, the proprietor of Bogton Baths, smiles a bit too much, especially when he tries to gloss over the strange stains on some of the gym equipment. It’s also interesting to see how well detailed Silvia is in contrast to the other characters. It’s like she comes through crystal clear because she’s this perfect person in Ollie’s eyes, while everyone else is a little less defined.

Letterer Colin Bell might just steal the show in Deep-Ender. After Ollie regrettably says something stupid and awkward while leaving, the words haunt him. They appear huge on the page, surrounding Ollie so they’re all he thinks about. It’s a great visual representation of anxiety and regret for something that every single one of us has done at one point or another. The images that immediately follow it, showing Ollie running off like the Road Runner are a nice match for it too, creating one of several laugh-out-loud moments in the comic.

We don’t know the full extent of Ollie’s near death experience, however there are enough flashes to his lifeless and bloody body floating in the water to get a basic understanding of it. These pop up during inopportune times as Ollie does his best to face down his fears. This is something that shook him to his core and he’s trying to get out there again. You really get the sense of how this has affected his life, nearly crippling not only his aquatic activities, but social interactions in general.

There are a handful of creepy moments through Deep-Ender, but nothing that is going to classify this as a horror book. It’s more quirky than anything. This is a fun, well-made comic that will leave a smile on your face. I don’t know where it will end up or where it will go next, but I certainly hope we get to see more of it soon.

You can read Deep-Ender #1 for free by signing up for John Lees’ newsletter here.