Archive for the ‘comics’ Category

Let’s Discuss! Bayou (Chapters 2-4)

"Cypress" by Simon Gunning

To start off this open thread on pages 34-154 of Bayou, here are a few issues to consider:

Over time, Africans in the Americas developed hybrid identities that retained aspects of their African roots yet still enabled them to adapt and survive in their new, and often hostile, environment. “Way-finding” manifested in the Great Migration of the early twentieth century as millions of blacks left the rural South for northern cities; today immigrants from across the African Diaspora continue to join these urban communities, infusing vital energy into existing cultural practices.

  • Do you have any favorite pages or panels that blend the fantastic and the real?
  • What is it about Lee that allows her to see and do things that others can’t? She can see Billy’s spirit under the water, stumbles into the lynching trees (an amazing panel on p. 49), and she can walk freely on the bank of the swamp while Lily’s feet are stuck. And does her tragic accident (103) change the meaning of her quest?
  • Any thoughts on the use of “The Yazoo Herald” as a framing device? (79)

I think the question Lee asks her father on page 35 is a central concern of the comic: “Why didn’t you fight?” Calvin Wagstaff’s experience keeps him from speaking up even when he knows his daughter is innocent. He wants to protect his family and home, but it makes Lee’s burden even heavier: she has to battle against white supremacy and the fears of black folks. I like the way Jeremy Love uses the parallel world as a mirror to reflect this absurdity. Bayou, for instance, is an enormous creature, capable of great strength, so why is his back covered with scars (141-142)? Lee responds to his “whining and crying” with a great line: “If I was as big as you, I’d be the Bossman!” She’s a bit naive, of course, since physical strength is not always the determining factor of who holds power, but her honesty is important.

And finally, check out this roundtable interview with Jeremy Love and Trevor Von Eeden, whose comic on boxer Jack Johnson appeared in print this year. (I like Love’s brief, but affirming response to the question about African-American girls and women in comics.)

Coming Soon: More “Bayou” Discussion

TBoH’s first discussion of Jeremy Love’s webcomic, Bayou, focused on the opening chapter. Thanks so much to all who responded! Next week, I’ll post a new open thread on Chapters 2-4 (pages 33-154), in which Lee begins her quest and the mysterious, parallel world of “Dixie” starts to take shape. We also get a glimpse of Bayou’s back story. So watch out for the Jim Crows (pg. 133) and I’ll see you back here next week!

Let’s Discuss: Jeremy Love’s “Bayou” (Chap. 1)

Let’s talk Bayou.

You might want to consider starting off with a few details about your approach to the comic itself: is this your first time reading a comic? On the web? If you’re already a comics reader, how does Bayou compare to others? Perhaps you’re a teacher, an artist, a history buff. In other words, what shapes your reading of this work?

1. Any thoughts on the relationship between Lee and Lily? I think that there is more conveyed about their “friendship” through the wordless panels than anything else. Lee’s silence is especially painful as Lily talks and acts unthinkingly. I was struck by the sequence on page 11, where Lily remarks upon Billy’s death (“My mama…said a nigger boy got no business whistlin’ at no white women”) right before she whistles herself. For me that awkward little whistle is a reminder of the fragile and arbitrary nature of the power for which Billy was sacrificed.

2. What about the story’s use of history? In the first 32 pages, we only see a hint of the magical netherworld that surrounds the bayou, but we do get several historical references: segregation and the sharecropping system, a blueswoman at the Mississippi juke joint, and of course, the extended allusion to the death of Emmett Till (as the paperback points out, Billy’s original name was “Emmet”). In your view, are there meaningful nuances here or are the historical references too one-dimensional and contrived? I was initially concerned that the story was too formulaic, from the white child’s predictable attempts to place blame on Lee to the image of the sunset behind the sharecropper’s cabin. But the plot begins to develop quite nicely in Chapter 2 – so keep reading!

Any other comments?

The “Bayou” of Heaven

I don’t have the energy to make new resolutions this year. All I’m willing to commit to is this: Whatever didn’t get right in 2009, try it again in 2010. I’m still motivated to find 15 minutes, still nudging Frieda to join us here in The Bottom more often (wink, wink), still resisting the urge to multi-task my life away.

But I also have an idea for the blog that I’ve been mulling over for a while.

Over a year ago, I wrote about my deep admiration and delight for the serial webcomic, Bayou by Jeremy Love. The comic has continued to earn critical acclaim since then, taking in five Glyph Comics Awards (including Story of the Year), and making the unusual leap from the web to print in a trade paperback series.

Beginning next week, I’d like to initiate an open-thread discussion about each section of Bayou, now in its sixth chapter online (and easy to access, free of charge), with the hope of attracting new and experienced comics readers to a story that I am eager to share. Seriously, I’m just a fan; nobody’s paying me to say this. Bayou is fascinating on so many levels: the plot’s use of southern history, its re-imagining of folklore and myth, a young female heroine and her mysterious otherworldly companions, Love’s brilliant artwork and Patrick Morgan’s coloring. I have a few criticisms of the story too, which should hopefully make for even more rewarding conversation. I’ll pose a couple of questions and offer preliminary thoughts, but I’m really interested in dialogue with the thoughtful, adventurous readers who visit TBoH (yes, I’m talking about you).

So we’ll begin with the first chapter – only 32 pages – next Thursday. My plan is to post a new thread once every two weeks until the Spring.

Start reading Bayou here.

TBoH Rant: Newsweek’s Review of Hurricane Katrina Comic

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There is something sadly disingenuous about Adam B. Kushner’s recent Newsweek review of the graphic novel, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld. The article offers tough criticism of the comic, which may be warranted (although here’s a more thoughtful piece that offers a different assessment) but then goes on to give the stank eye to all recent non-fiction graphic novels and nearly dismisses the quality of the medium as a whole.

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Watchmen Baby Love

watchmen-babies3My take on the film, Watchmen, is best characterized by the feeling I get when my daughter gives me a picture she has colored at school. I’m not expecting a perfect or flawless work of art; I’m just so thrilled that such a work exists and I am without words to evaluate it with anything nearing objectivity.

Last Friday afternoon, I spent three hours in the movie theater smiling (and cringing where appropriate) with sheer delight at Zack Snyder’s efforts to translate one of my favorite graphic novels to the silver screen. Since then, I’ve found something to admire in nearly every mixed review of film, particularly those that demonstrate a true appreciate for Alan Moore’s story whether they liked the movie or not. (And many did not.)

At PrettyFakes, Professor Fury opines:

I thought there should have been a credit somewhere that said “Watchmen: Adapted from a 9th-grader’s book report on the graphic novel!” Not a dumb 9th-grader, mind you, just one who had to finish that book report in a hurry and so, in the time honored tradition of procrastinating 9th-graders everywhere, summarized the plot and just decided to ignore all the stuff that was over his head.

Over at WriteBlack, Anika muses:

It’s fair to say that I approached the news of this movie and its ultimate existence with both unparalleled anticipation and dread.
I shouldn’t have worried so much.
No, it’s not Casablanca, or even The Dark Knight, but I didn’t expect it to be.
It was, though, as good a film version of Watchmen as could possibly have been made.

One thing we can all agree on, however: those opening credits were awesome. I’m still waiting to see what Rich Watson has to say over at Glyphs…. But in the meantime, he shares this lovely Wired Magazine interview with Alan Moore.

Here’s my favorite passage:

smiley

Wired: You’ve had the double problem of not only the difficulty of [film] adaptation, but also having suffered through some pretty egregious adaptations.

Moore: I’ve never watched any of the adaptations of my books. I’ve never wanted to, and there’s absolutely no chance of me doing so in the future. So I haven’t really suffered through them…

My books are still the same books as they were before they were made into films. The books haven’t changed. I’m reminded of the remark by, I think it was Raymond Chandler, where he was asked about what he felt about having his books “ruined” by Hollywood. And he led the questioner into his study and showed him all the books there on the bookshelf, and said, Look—there they all are. They’re all fine. They’re fine. They’re not ruined. They’re still there. And I think that’s pretty much the attitude I take. If the books are as good as I think they are, then they are the things that will endure. And if the films are as bad as I think they are, then they are the things that will not endure. So, I suppose we’ll see at the end of the day, whenever that is.

Today the graphic novel, Watchmen, is currently the number one selling book at Amazon. (Take that, Steve Harvey!) Moore’s being discovered by a whole new generation of readers, which is so exciting. So I need not worry. It’s fine. It’s not ruined. It’s still here.

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The Blues as Black History

devilblues2

"Me and the Devil Blues"

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.

- James Baldwin

*

This February, I approached Black History Month differently than I have in the past. Instead of looking to PBS and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s latest “discovery” for inspiration, I tried to be mindful of the ways black history already affects my daily life. So I began with my iPod and two of the blues singers who have made themselves at home there: Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Both Waters and Hopkins are masters of the acoustic guitar-driven “country blues” with low, gritty voices that transfigure suffering through song. Yet, I hadn’t realized until recently that the experiences about which they sang were their own. After listening to Alan Lomax’s recording of “Burr Clover Farm Blues” by Muddy Waters, I learned that the Stovall Plantation in the lyrics was the name of the farm where Waters recorded the song that afternoon in the 1940s, the same plantation where he was picking cotton for fifty cents a day.

The same is true for Lightnin’ Hopkins who grew up in Centerville, Texas in the early 20th century. His song, “Cotton” is not his most famous, but it is one of my favorites. It tells the story of Hopkins’ childhood experience in the field with his parents. Hopkins’ vocals are easy, conversational, and clearly illustrate why he was so well known for his spontaneity and improvisational skill. A song like “Cotton” makes me feel reflective and humble, particularly when I consider how far African Americans have come and how songs like this one have provided comfort along the way.

I stood straight up in the field,
Looking round, trying to find me some shade
(Lord, Have Mercy) Poor Lightnin’ trying to find him some shade
Poor Mama sitting there with her pencil and paper
Figuring up every dime that the family made

*

Both Waters and Hopkins were influenced by the Father of the Blues, Robert Johnson, the legendary musician who was said to have acquired his talent by selling his very soul to the devil. My research on Johnson led me beyond his recordings to Japanese manga artist Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson. Described as a “phantasmagoric reimagining” of the bluesman’s life, this comic follows Johnson through the moments of hardship and grief when he began to develop his craft.

I love comics, but I have never been a big fan of the aesthetic style and form of manga. So seeing the life of a black southerner take shape in the Japanese style forced me to experience the blues in a new way. Ultimately, what I found appealing about Me and the Devil Blues is the way Hiramoto visualizes sound; he captures the passion of the intense rhythms quite convincingly.

The same way that James Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues” conveys what the blues feels like through well-chosen words, Akira Hiramoto shows us what the blues looks like in black and white sketches. Long panels shaped like shards of glass, cinematic perspectives that highlight the nimble fingers and the long gaze of the bluesman. There are moments when the translation of the oddly hysterical dialogue fails to match the artwork. But the merits of Me and the Devil Blues overshadows these failings, and I’m looking forward to reading the second volume.

How about you? Did you come across anything new this Black History Month?

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