Jeremy Love‘s Bayou, evidently the first physical book to be created from DC Comics’ webcomic imprint Zuda, is about a little girl named Lee who lives in 1930s Mississippi with her father. When he is accused of raping and murdering Lee’s young white friend Lily (who actually got eaten by an enormous monster in the bayou), and carted off to jail, Lee sets out fearlessly to find Lily and thus save her father from death.
Before I head off to bed*, I just wanted to say, Holy God, this book was scary. I read about it (where else, for my graphic novel recommendations?) on Nymeth’s blog, and nowhere did she say anything like, In addition to its beautiful art and plucky protagonist, this book has the SCARIEST SCARINESS OF ALL TIME. You know why I didn’t buy this book immediately after I finished reading it at Bongs & Noodles this evening? Because I want to have kids eventually, and I don’t want them to find this book and read it and be scarred for life, as would inevitably happen, and then they’d get taken from me by CPS for abuse which I would deserve because that’s how scary this book is.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system – hang on, wait, I don’t feel like I have adequately conveyed how scary it is. The kids thing wasn’t a good example. Kids scare easy. Let me try again. Imagine the most terrifying nightmare you have ever had. Now multiply it times six, and add a shark attack salad, a side of being-buried-alive, and a large scoop of public speaking. Are you imagining that? Because the scariness you are imagining right now has to go sleep in its parents’ bed when it has nightmares about Bayou.
You have now officially been warned, so when you pick up this book and start reading it, you will not be thinking, la la la, aren’t these illustrations beautiful; la la la, there’s going to be an enormous rabbit; la la la – trust me, you won’t be thinking any la la la at all. And if you were (which you won’t be, once you read the rest of this paragraph), it would get knocked out of you the second you realized that the reason that child is diving into that bayou is to fish up the body of a kid that got lynched. And that is not the scariest thing that happens in this book.
And now for something completely different: This book is so good. How good, you ask? Very, very, very good. (Help, I can feel myself going into gush mode – this can happen when I shriek complaints about things for a while – it is like the universe needs to balance me back out – here we go…)
Bayou may be the best graphic novel I’ve read this year, and I read Fun Home and Ordinary Victories this year. It is relentlessly wonderful with its beauty and brilliance and wonderfulness. In the first place, Love and Morgan have made about the most gorgeous illustrations you ever saw. The art is dreamy and cartoony and exactly real – it doesn’t feel that incongruous to see Lee (our heroine!) one second being knocked unconscious while her father is taken away, and the next second talking to a giant rabbit. Lee’s journey to save her father takes her to some weird places (and, I’m given to understand, will be taking her to even weirder ones), in a rather Alice in Wonderlandy way, but the emotional grounding of the story means that you need Lee to succeed.
Bringing me to my next point: Jeremy Love’s ear for dialogue. This book has perfectly perfect dialogue, and when you’re writing a story set in the past, it’s crucial to succeed at this. Love’s dialogue does, of course, give the reader an incredible sense of place. What’s even better, he gives his characters such distinctive, genuine voices that only a few lines between, for instance, Lee and Lily, or Lee and her father, convey their relationships perfectly.
If I haven’t put you off by going on and on about how pissingly terrifying it is, you should read it in book form (which is nice because it’s beautiful) or online here. My computer is too slow to read it online, which is frustrating because I desperately want to know what happens next. And if you are reading this and thinking, Oh, that Jenny. She is exaggerating. Nothing is scary enough to scare six times my worst nightmare plus shark attack & public speaking & being buried alive, just you look at pages 40-50 and you will see that I was not exaggerating. At. All.
*WHERE I WILL UNDOUBTEDLY HAVE HORRIFIC NIGHTMARES