Being Introduced to the Graphic Novel by the Bayou

I came across this beautifully illustrated graphic novel over the weekend at Forbidden Planet in NYC. I stumbled upon the store with a friend. On the counter was this exquisitely colored graphic novel Bayou. I’d never seen anything like it. What I discovered was unlike what I, a novice to the graphic novel, expected. It was so impressive and intriguing that I’ve added it to my summer reading list.

Bayouis set in the 1930s and tells the story of Lee, the daughter of a Black sharecropper and her father, and the devastating impact of her white friend Lily, lying and accusing Lee of stealing and loosing her family heirloom locket in the bayou. According to graphicnovelreporter.com, Bayoubegan as a webcomic at Zuda.com, and has since been published by Zuda Comics, which was launched in October 2007 in order to solicit and encourage creative and original comics.  Zuda is planning to release Bayou in three volumes, with the next in the series coming out in early 2010. Bayou was illustrated and written by Jeremy Love, and the stunning color was done by Patrick Morgan.

Lee looks for answers. An image from Jeremy Love's award-winning Bayou.

 Keep in mind that I’m completely new to this genre, but from what I’ve read/researched on line, Bayou is quickly winning esteem. This year it won five 2009 Glyph Awards, which according to popcultureshock.com, “recognize[s] the best in comics made by, for, and about people of color from the preceding calendar year. While it is not exclusive to black creators, it does strive to honor those who have made the greatest contributions to the comics medium in terms of both critical and commercial impact. By doing so, the goal is to encourage more diverse and high quality work across the board and to inspire new creators to add their voices to the field.” The Glyph Awards were started by comics’ journalist Rich Watson.

What struck me about Bayou, is the melding of what I love: art, storytelling, and history. Bayou opens with an eerie scene where we meet Lee diving into the bayou for a body, and meeting a spirit. The illustration and color is so beautifully rendered, I had to focus and remember to read the text. Immediately we can see the bravery of Lee and are acquainted simultaneously orienting the reader with the racial oppression of the era; Lee is looking for the body of a boy who’s been accused of whistling at a white womyn – a reference of course to the murder of Emmit Till, a 14 year-old Black boy from Chicago, accused of whistling at a white womyn in 1955, who was subsequently tortured and drowned.

The central figure of the graphic novel is Lee, who searches for a way to save her father. Love says his influences included the Uncle Remus stories, and his own background as a native of North Carolina. Love said he wanted to create a work that combined history, a Southern Gothic aesthetic, and Black mythology. You can learn more about the Jeremy Love and his graphic novel here. Publisher’s Weekly has also written about Jeremy Love and Zuda Comics. I’m really looking forward to reading Bayou, learning more about the graphic novel – and authors and illustrators of color.

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