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Jeremy Love's American Style

At turns gruelingly realistic and dripping with the Southern milieu that flavors its historical roots, Bayou is a rare treat. Fast-paced and gripping, it’s compulsively readable. Dark and foreboding, it’s got an eerie quality that chills the spine. But perhaps most notable is the infuriatingly accurate portrayal of racism and oppression inflicted on its main character, a young girl named Lee, and her father, who is wrongly accused of murdering a little white girl in the Mississippi bayou that gives the series its name.

First begun as a webcomic for Zuda (a division of DC), the series is now available in print form. We talked to creator Jeremy Love about bringing this important and riveting series to life…and now to a whole new audience.
 
What inspired Bayou?

I’ve always been interested in the mythology of America. The south, in particular, seems like a haunted place. You have this region that is covered with blood but produces so much beauty. I never really felt connected to African mythology until I started reading Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales. Seeing how elements of African mythology were interwoven with American folklore was the spark. What led me to the Uncle Remus tales was Disney’s Song of the South, a film I’ve always had mixed feelings about. I felt I as an African American creator could reclaim that mythology.

I thought this world would be the perfect place to stage an epic fantasy tale. I could mash up elements of the Civil War, blues, African mythology, Southern Gothic and American folklore and show how they form a tapestry that is the American South.

When and why did you first decide to publish it as a webcomic?

Bayou wasn’t originally conceived as a webcomic. I was approached to pitch an idea long before I knew what the particulars of Zuda were. I didn’t even know it was going to be called “Zuda”. I was very pleased that they were willing to run my strange little serialized graphic novel and I hope to live up to the love this book is getting in the Zuda offices.

When did you first start in comics?

Me and my brothers self-published a comic about 10 years ago, and the rest just snowballed from there. The book (Chocolate Thunder) got positive attention, which led to bigger opportunities in animation and comics.

Do you remember your first comic book?

The first comic I remember is an issue of Spider-Man. I was really into Saturday morning cartoons, and so it was natural that I would gravitate to comics. The first comic to have an impact on me was John Buscema’s run on Conan the Barbarian. That was the first time I was aware of the artist. I decided right then I wanted to draw comics when I grew up.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in North Carolina and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Sacramento, California.

What is your experience with the territory you depict in Bayou?

My extended family and ancestry are southern. I was able to draw on the rich family history, stories, and anecdotes I’ve heard since I was a child. The smell, the wet heat, the food, and the general character of the south will always be a part of me. I think the fact that I see it as more of a childhood memory informs the dreamlike quality I’m trying to achieve with Bayou.

How did you make sure you were accurately depicting the early 1930s in Mississippi?

I have my parents and family members for small things, and I am a student of Southern history and folklore. It was something I was always interested in. However, I am not trying to create a docu-drama here. As long as it feels right, I’m fine.

How did you work on the dialogue in the book and ensure its authenticity?

The dialogue comes natural. I heard it every day as a kid; I hear it now. I trust my own experiences when it comes to dialogue authenticity. Again, I do try to make it somewhat poetic and to the point.

How long do you see Bayou continuing?

The story comes to a definite end at around page 500.

How do you relate to telling this story through the eyes of Lee?

Lee is everyone who feels defenseless in a big, overwhelming environment. She presses on despite insurmountable odds, as we all do at one time or another in our life. The fact that she is female is secondary. I also used my own childhood experiences with white friends who you loved despite occasionally saying or doing completely racist things.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m working on another big comic-book project and an animation project, but they are both at very early stages.

Any dream projects you’d like to do?

I would love to take a shot at a mainstream superhero title, just to prove I can draw more than furry animals and little girls.

-- John Hogan