colors by Patrick Morgan
DC Comics, 2009.
orig. web-comic at zudacomics.com
(volume one = first four chapters = (?) 8 on-line installments)
It is 1933 in Charon Mississippi and 10-year-old Lee Wagstaff’s father has fallen into trouble; and, in a way, it is the bayou’s fault. “The bayou is a bad place. Ain’t nuthin’ good ever happened there.” When Lee’s white playmate Lily gets eaten by a monster in the bayou and effectively goes missing, Lee has to find a way to get her back before her father is lynched by the local and not-so-local racists. Overcoming her terror of things seen and unseen in the bayou, Lee dives in and begins a journey in which “strange gods and monsters” await; a “fantastic and frightening world, born from centuries of slavery and civil war.”
Lee meets a swamp monster, Bayou, who reluctantly agrees to become her guide. “Together they trek across a hauntingly familiar Southern Neverland, on a journey that will drastically alter both their lives…”*
Jeremy Love’s Bayou is as WIRED magazine observes, “as hypnotic as it is unsettling.” Flipping pages, I thought the artwork and color beautiful, and the premise clinched it; but Bayou was more than I had anticipated. I was pulled in and under and ultimately left gasping.
Bayou is not a comic to be left lying around or lingering on the screen with young eyes about. The content is uncompromisingly graphic; and yet coarse language and blatantly derrogative names are *#&@ out. But the setting is the deep South and the climate for its black population is bloody.
The story collected into this volume begins with Lee diving into the bayou to retrieve the body of Billy Glass, a boy not much older than herself who had been hanged recently. “My mama says Billy Glass deserved what he got. She said a n***** boy got no business whistlin’ at no white woman.”~Lily to Lee. Lee doesn’t only find Billy’s sightless, bloating body, but a form of him with butterfly wings hovering nearby. Afterward, Lee gladly heeds her loving father’s warning to stay away from the bayou. After all, it did take her mother.
Love moves in and out of panel form to enhance the narrative, in and out of the past fluidly, and his section of newspaper article text notable. The images are so beautiful, every page is eagerly turned, but what Love captures is so hard to take at times, a struggle ensues.
“The town was renamed from its original moniker, Clarksville, after the War Between the States. It was there, in the waning days of the epic conflict, that General Douglass Matthew Bogg made his last stand against Sherman’s Northern marauders. Bogg fought so fiercely that a Yankee writer likened him to Charon, the ancient Greek figure who ferried dead souls into Hades.”
Love melds history and myth rather effortlessly, captured in cultural lore and in the “magical” sight of his young protagonist. One plane seems no less violent than the other. Lee isn’t escaping with the Reader into a fantasy which hides its realist images in correlatives; for one, the earlier images of human evil is so firmly imprinted, the humanoid monster can hardly supplant it.
Not all the scenes harbor darkness, or lack the charm that magic can bring. But it is best to prepare yourself for only the unexpected, and hope you can get your hands on future chapters. This is a collection to own–and share.
*quotes from back cover.
A wonderful review by Don MacPherson at “Eye on Comics” wherein he talks about artistic reminiscence; the subversion of Cotton-Eyed Joe; the importance Patrick Morgan’s contribution brings to the work; and the unlikable Lily. He gives Bayou: Volume one a 9/10 rating stating,
While the point of the storytelling is abundantly clear, the way in which Love opts to convey his meaning is darkly delightful. This is an African-American vision of such fabled stories as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Southern and black culture, not to mention U.S. history, factor in heavily with Love’s character concepts and designs. He mixes the worlds of magic and the mundane incredibly well here. This unusual and mature take on the child’s quest into another world is mesmerizing.