Rion Amilcar Scott recommends Jeremy Love’s Bayou

Every so often I revisit the graphic novel series Bayou, of which just two volumes were published back in the aughts and early teens. To this day the series remains unfinished and I always want to see when I reread it if I’ll remain astonished. Without fail the first volume of Jeremy Love’s vision of a mid-twentieth century fantasyland American South leaves me shaken, my pulse quickening; the racial nightmare of the world of 1930s Bayou is somehow even more of a nightmare than the nightmare that existed. Lee Wagstaff, the daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, watches an ogre-like creature drag her childhood friend, a young white girl named Lily, to the bottom of a bayou. The white authorities of Charon, Mississippi blame Lee’s father for her disappearance. Now Lee’s father’s life is in jeopardy. He’s beaten and taken to jail. To save his life, Lee travels to the bottom of that bayou where she finds a flipped version of the world she knows. There are mosquitoes and water creatures with pickanniny faces and murderous jim crows that can rip and man to pieces with their sharp beaks. It’s a dangerous fantasia, but Lee also finds a friendly ogre named Bayou to help her navigate her journey, to help her interpret the strange visions all around her. Lee has a journey ahead of her to save her father, but she now has a guide.  The story continues in Volume two, a denser darker trek through this underworld. But then the series stops, to this day unfinished. Sometimes I find myself searching through the internet to see if Volume three dropped sometime while I wasn’t looking. We’ve had no such luck. Lee is still down there in that flipped fantasia and we can keep journeying with her. 

Rion Amilcar Scott is the author of the story collection, The World Doesn’t Require You (Norton/Liveright, August 2019), a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and winner of the 2020 Towson Prize for Literature. Presently he teaches Creative Writing at the University of Maryland.