cover image Unended


Josh Bayer. Uncivilized, $24.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-94125-056-3

Indie comics mainstay Bayer (Theth) confronts childhood traumas while struggling to adapt his estranged father’s unfinished play in this thorny hybrid of family memoir and peek behind the artistic process. Over dense pages swelling with scratched inky lines and bruised washes of color, a discursive psychological drama plays out following the discovery of a manuscript Bayer’s father secretly worked on for decades. A rancorous play with “a sort of weird beauty... or maybe just weird with no beauty,” the manuscript dramatizes the untimely death of Bayer’s mother, and airs paternal disappointments. The book encompasses both Bayer’s comics adaptation of the play and an account of the project’s fraught completion—as he wrestles with questions of memory and objectivity stirred up in the process. Braiding together scenes from the play and vignettes from Bayer’s own memory, a claustrophobic portrait emerges of a bitter and competitive family—a tinderbox of suppressed fury and creativity. The art nods to classic comics, though with a visceral, surrealist bent indebted to Raymond Pettibon’s punk LP sleeves as much as Anselm Kiefer and Käthe Kollwitz’s haunted expressionism. Long-limbed figures skulk the panels, contorted by anguish and insecurity, and Bayer sometimes draws his father wearing an executioner’s hood. Details require close reading in swirling compositions that flood the senses, but the obsessive reckoning with legacy resonates throughout. This charged account of the past’s enduring grip is a triumph. (Oct.)