Loud Comix # 1 – 3
by Jamie Vayda, illus. with stories by Frankie Nowhere, Eika Lane, Sonny Joe Harlan, Alan King, Christian Maes, Eric Todd, Darin Martinez, Sal Canzonieri, Joel Rivers, and Eric Perfect
Birdcage Bottom Books, October and December 2013, and February 2014
32 pages each | Birdcage Bottom Books
Semester to semester the response from my college sophomores after I teach them William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is fairly predictable: a slew of essays talking about how Emily Grierson’s love is “twisted,” one or two students who are troubled by its casual racism, and a crackpot theory with no support from the text (“The servant killed Homer so he could be with Emily forever” is a recent fave). And yet, time after time I’m still surprised by how unresponsive my Southern students are to Faulkner’s depiction of the grotesque.
I know for a fact that they can identify with the environment that Faulkner depicts. When I ask my students if they are familiar with small-town gossip—which is how the story is told, if it’s been a minute since you’ve read it—hands unanimously rise. Semester long I hear personal stories of poverty, crime, and abuse from my students, so why are they not identifying the same grotesqueness (albeit to a necrophiliacal extreme) in Faulkner’s story?
One possible (and pragmatic) reason is that they’re not actually reading the assignments, but quiz scores show that that’s insufficient to explain the entire class’ lack of engagement. Another possibility assumes that many students have already grown up in the South and, thus inoculated to the grotesqueness of the region, don’t raise an eyebrow to the most extreme cases, like “A Rose for Emily” or the work of Flannery O’Connor, depicted in the course readings. (Although, if this is the case, I bet reading the right selections from Carson McCullers’s Reflections in a Golden Eye could make even the most iron-willed student weep/vomit, but that seems far more malicious than pedagogical.)
I’m wary of this second possibility, though. I, like many of my students, have lived in the South for the entirety of my life, yet I am affected by Faulkner’s prose. Perhaps this is because I am more attuned to the underlying horrors that Faulkner is getting at in “Rose”? Yes, he is using the imagery of a desiccated corpse (one is also reminded of the buzzard-trailed wagon in As I Lay Dying), but it’s not simply for shock value. Faulkner, as many Southern writers have done after him, uses the grotesqueness of the South to criticize the alienating nature of small Mississippi communities. Since Emily was cloistered away by her father and later shunned by the community, she never learned that murder was unacceptable, and that’s the true horror of the story, not the “iron grey” hair on the pillowcase.
It’s difficult to look critically at something you’ve spent your whole life immersed in, like small-town Southern culture, or Christianity, or enmeshment. I think this is the real reason why my students strain against reading Faulkner. Mr. Faulkner makes us look closely at our own cultural foibles, not just in the South but throughout the Western world. This is why the Southern grotesque is simultaneously necessary, appealing, and reviled. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Alongside the growing popularity of television shows such as True Detective and the forthcoming film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, there’s been a revival in talking about the Southern gothic. Jason Gubbels adeptly discussed the intersection between the Gothic and the Drive-by Truckers here at Entropy not too long ago. I have found that a ubiquitous trait of these Southern gothic shows is their soundtrack. Think about the opening credits of True Blood (which seems to be the only break into public consciousness Jace Everett will ever receive) and its bluesy chords and dusky vocals.
There’s a big push amongst my Tennessean peers to distance ourselves from country music. Nashville is Music City (which should include all music). There are tons of great bands from Tennessee that are not country, like PUJOL, JEFF the Brotherhood, His Hero Is Gone, and the late Jay Reatard, and even more musicians from Hip-hop and other genres (Don’t forget Kesha!). And yet, despite this attempted distancing from Southern stereotypes there’s still a layer of grit that the bands I’ve listed above share with a lot of country musicians, especially those popularized by producers and TV crews like T Bone Burnett. For the sake of clarity, I’ll just call this shared element Southern Gothicism. It’s as if growing up in the South and seeing what we see brings out an urge to raise Hell and swig whiskey that only this Southern brand of rock ‘n’ roll can assuage.
Jamie Vayda’s series Loud Comix furthers this theory on rock. This series of comic books takes stories from (mostly Southern) rock musicians and illustrates them in a particularly Southern Gothic style. This is both in artistic style and in the contributing writers’ subject matter.
Vayda’s artistic style is akin to other gross-out cartoonists like Johnny Ryan and Peter Bagge, but, while his style clearly reveals an alternative comix pedigree, there’s also an air of folk-art craftsmanship to his panels that’s most often associated with outsider artists. His kinetic caricatures draw the reader’s eye, but the woodcut-like intricacy of his close-up details and backgrounds are worth noting. Vayda has no compunction with regards to what he will illustrate. His panels depict childbirth, violence, and debauchery with the crassest of deliveries. Which fits his source material perfectly.
Much like the lyrical content of punk and garage rock, the stories in Loud Comix aim for abrasiveness. Stories about porn fairies, pimps, cocaine fueled paranoia, and comedians bombing at The Apollo populate the three issues alongside longer serial comics about undead daredevils and the darkness that resides in the Southern family. These stories are ugly, gross, and uncomfortable. They’re stories of acid trips gone awry, pants defecation, and karaoke. Simply put, they’re grotesque.
It’s easy to write off work like Jamie Vayda’s as immature clap-trap, but to do so would be to ignore a valuable storytelling device: that of the grotesque. Yes, Vayda’s subject matter is repellant, but that’s how life in the American South can be. This is not to condemn a region as being less tolerable than those of northern or western climes, but, instead, it can be an attempt to explain the South’s complicated appeal.
Much like the West Tennessee venue where I learned about punk rock and sludge metal, flea-infested and coated in grime, populated by addicts, drunks, and those who raise Hell, there’s a mystique about the South–a, “I know it’s flawed, but it’s home” vibe that’s not easily shaken. Loud Comix wonderfully distills this feeling, albeit grotesque, for both sons and daughters of the South and Yankees alike.