How Jeremy Love's "Bayou" Is Redefining Comics
Jeremy Love, a comic book writer and illustrator presented his latest series, Bayou, at UC Santa Cruz as guest of the Living Writer’s Series. The series is an opportunity given every quarter in which students engage with writers, poets, artists and film makers. This spring the theme of the series is Speculations in Color. It seeks to thematize and bring into conversation how speculative genres such as science fiction and the graphic novel interrogate or transform ideas of race and belonging.
The story of Bayou follows the main protagonist, Lee Wagstaff, a young daughter of a share cropper in the 1930’s South, who vows to save her father from being lynched. The comics later show how she befriends a swamp creature by the name of Bayou.
Writer Quiana Whitted writes in “Of Swamp Things and Slaves” that the foil between Bayou and Lee express the “enduring psychological wounds of racial oppression.” Working side by side together, Lee and Bayou stand as a powerful example of this. However, their characters are not that simple either.
The surreal and magical moments of Bayou act as a powerful subversion to the master narratives concerning Southern history and depictions of blackness. What is exciting about Bayou, as Whitted later writes, is how it “challenges the notion of the South as a closed, unified narrative by manipulating the representation of African American history and memory through speculative genres.” And it is true, Love’s comics are provocative in that it shows how speculative genres offer alternative stories and histories to be expressed and re-sought.
In sharing the imagery that influenced the making of Bayou, Love speaks on many animation influences. From old Disney classics to typical Southern movies, like Gone with the Wind Love expresses how he desired to put something on the shelf that he would have liked to see as a kid. In this, he has succeeded in doing so.
Bayou is both accessible and fast flowing. Any reader of any comic book experience will find pleasure in the simple panel layout of Love’s work. The colourful illustrations of the South play on a fragile balance of reality and surrealism.
A UCSC student questioned if Love held influences outside of animation to which Love remarks that his stylistic choices were partially influenced by the cartoonist Bill Watterson known for his famous series, “Calvin and Hobbes.”
Students engrossed in the work of Love purchased the remaining copies of his comic series that are now currently out of print. Hinting that there may be a compendium release of Bayou in the near future, Love ends the Q&A on a note of advice: self publish your work, know your rights as a writer, and use social media to your advantage.
Like the many writers before who have visited the Living Writer’s series, Love’s work pushes the boundaries in understanding identity, race, and history. This quarter’s series will end with another notable writer, Samuel Delany who is visiting UC Santa Cruz on March 10, 2016 at the Music Recital Hall. Doors open at 4:30pm and the reading will commence at 6pm. If I were you, I’d arrive early for a good seat.
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