This semester I’m teaching a course at Teachers College, Columbia University on Culture, Media, and Education. As part of the course, students are assigned to read a graphic novel of their choice and asked to provide a multimodal analysis of the text.
I participated in the assignment with my students this week and chose to read for the first time Jeremy Love’s graphic novel Bayou (2009). (Side note to grad students: Reading short fiction is a refreshing escape from the daily grind of dissertating. I highly recommend). I was initially drawn to Bayou a few weeks ago in preparation for the course because of the novel’s use of imagery to illustrate critical social commentary and historicize issues of racial violence in the south. I’ve always been drawn to bayou stories. Having spent a good portion of my young adult life living in the south, I find myself always deeply affected by stories of the bayou.
I didn’t realize, however, the significance of Love’s story until last week after learning about the McKinney pool party incident. A seemingly unfathomable scenario in which a white male police officer drags to the ground and publicly humiliates a Black teenage girl in a majority-white gated community of north Texas.
The officer has since resigned from the police force. Yet, images and video of the incident continue to spread across the Internet, graphically displaying familiar tensions between Black youth (particularly Black girls) and police officers.
McKinney and the Bayou are eerily similar. Both take place in southern towns confronting issues of racial violence at the hands of white neighbors and police officers. The two narratives depict graphic imagery and accounts of towns that have been plagued by racial segregation. A microcosmic tale of a nation branded by its long and deeply troubling history of racism.
Despite its colorful and cartoonish animations, Bayou is far from a childish tale. The novel’s images evoke racial trauma of years passed that even to this day reemerge by way of sharable content and online viral imagery. Bayou is a story of desperation, hopelessness, fear, triumph, and courage; an all-American anecdote about a little Black girl whose survival solely depended upon being brave while living in a racially divided town and country.
The Bayou is an echo of the present.
Love’s Bayou, Vol. 2 (2011) is also available for purchase.