By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Aug. 4, 2009 -- If you crossed To Kill a Mockingbird
with Alice in Wonderland
, what you’d get is something similar to the remarkable graphic novel Bayou
follows Lee Wagstaff, a little black girl in 1930s Charon, Mississippi. The Magnolia State in this era is not only a land of Jim Crow and lynchings, but also one of swamp monsters and bayou fairies that only Lee can see. This odd mixture of the brutal and the fantastic make a vibrant backdrop to Lee’s adventures, which are themselves a mixture of peril in worlds both mysterious and mundane.
For example, her white friend Lily is swallowed by a swamp monster named Cotton-Eyed Joe – for which her father is blamed, beaten and arrested. A noose seems inevitable. Lee’s solution is to rescue her friend from the swamp and exonerate her father, which results in an encounter with a golliwog (which looks like a minstrel in blackface and lives underwater), an alliance with Bayou (a big, and big-hearted, swamp denizen), glimpses of a pixie named Emmet (Till, anyone?), and conflict with the spirit of Civil War General Bog (the “Bossman,” who can take the shape of a flight of Jim Crows), and his minions, all named for famous confederates, including dog-faced Jubal (Early) Bloodhound, horned Nathan (Bedford Forrest) and white-hooded Jefferson (Davis).
All of this is captured in writer/artist Jeremy Love’s delightful, expressive art. Like his story it is of two worlds – at times cartoony and at other times realistic – but it’s all in service to the story, which is told clearly and smoothly.
And it’s heady stuff, sure to be controversial, especially in my native South. But if we Southerners are proud of our culture, as we claim to be, we have to embrace all of it – the bad as well as the good.
My only complaint is that it’s not a complete story. Still, that just means more of Lee’s adventures in future volumes. Or we can visit Zudacomics.com, DC’s online webcomics competition site. Bayou
is the first Zuda submission to move from pixels to print, and we can only hope for similar quality in future.
* Solomon Kane: The Castle of the Devil
($15.95): There’s something mesmerizing about the contradictory Kane, the dour, 16th century Puritan adventurer created by Robert E. Howard (Conan the barbarian) now published by Dark Horse Comics.
writer Scott Allie described him in an interview as “a cold, driven man with little emotional life, and a desire to do good, but violence is all he’s good at.” So, yes, he’s immune to the persuasions of women, doesn’t drink or swear and isn’t much of a conversationalist. But that just means he’s undistracted from his lupine joy in battle, which, of course, he believes is all in service to the Lord. He’s a disturbing fellow, this Solomon Kane.
Which is captured in this graphic novel, fleshed out from nothing more than a few opening paragraphs in Howard’s notes. There are demons, there are religious conflicts, there is temptation denied and there is joie de combat. Sounds like Solomon Kane to me.
* Harvey Classic Comics Vol. 5: The Harvey Girls
(Dark Horse, $19.95): This collection of 110 children’s stories from 1952-62 is really charming, but I suspect they are too politically incorrect for today’s audience.
Harvey was king of kids’ comics from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, with such characters as Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost, mostly written and rendered by veterans of animation studios. These guys really knew how to tell a story, and to tell it quick!
And credit where it’s due: Their female characters were ahead of their time in being spunky, resourceful and adventurous. Little Dot, Little Audrey and Little Lotta never shied from trouble, and always solved the problem of the day.
On the other hand, though, most of the humor surrounding Little Lotta had to do with her weight, which is now a no-no. And all of them had to circumvent the patriarchal restrictions placed on them as girls, restrictions which are much reduced today and might even confuse young readers.
But are we really so PC that we can’t enjoy these tales? I hope not, because today’s girls could do worse for role models.
And now that I think of it, if it wasn’t for the Harvey girls, we might never have had a Lee Wagstaff. That’s a family tree to be proud of.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.