Retrofit Comics sent a few of their latest. Here are thoughts on one of them.
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I’d originally thought the protagonist of Theth was an abnormally large Yeti, crossing some landscape to escape whatever is over its shoulder, but in actuality it’s the small guy wearing the space suit dreaming below, at the bottom of the cover. His name is Seth. Theth, pronounced with a lisp. He’d like to be a Yeti.
The misunderstood ape fits Seth, an adolescent trapped in his own cage of excommunication. They’re both outcasts, kept on the outside by themselves and their dispositions to what surrounds them. Though they survive, they only survive through withdrawal, pulling into primitive means, or in Seth’s case, fictitious delusions sponsored by comic books. And there’s the difference between them. The mountains in that Yeti’s grasp are at least physical — an external force to conquer. Which is why Seth fantasizes this crypto-counterpart. He, too, would enjoy pushing past the terrain inhibiting him, and though this day dream is of something Seth finds alluring, it’s also telling that his go-to allusion is of someone ultimately lonely and forsaken. The cover, if read as so, summarizes the two-sided perspective Josh Bayer brings to Theth. Where what’s shown is understandable as it is horrific.
In the book, Bayer shows us someone incapable of dealing with reality, yet is still affected by it. The main effect is Seth’s spiral into comic book fiction as a means of coping with parents, bullying and wondering whether or not a girl will ever fuck him. A few comics have dealt with this idea before (Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies is a recent one), but Bayer’s take doesn’t seek sympathy as others tend to, especially in terms of the lead character. Because while Seth is pathetic enough at times to feel for, he’s also a member of a world not entirely terrible or just (much like ours), where John Lennon can be murdered though still mourned. In comparison to our actions, Seth’s appear extreme. His step-mother, though unlikable and rough, is still shown as human rather than a cartoon villain responsible for a teenager’s demise. She wants some sense of a connection to her step-son, and her open remorse for Lennon’s death points to someone alive inside the plump, white case her shitty suburban hairdo hides. The very nature of their relationship explains Seth’s distance from her, yet Bayer’s willingness to stop and place more than a-typical exclamations in the step-mother’s mouth, layering little extra pieces of character, shades their interactions differently. It says Seth is not a helpless victim but a coward who’s unable to confront the imperfection coming for him. Where Bayer could have oped for the empathetic, though unrealistic, nerd in need of our tears, he crafted someone tough to digest.
Other examples within Theth shine a similar light on Seth, but you can read the book for those. If anything, I find Bayer’s complicated take to be a mature one, and one that I’m not sure many other cartoonists would do. Because Seth’s distance is arguably comparable to that of a cartoonist or someone like myself who’s way too obsessed with this shit. There is an element of Theth that celebrates comics. A drawing published in the back of the book, a splash of famous comic characters like Nancy, Dick Tracy and Garfield charging the reader, holding a banner that reads “Make Comics Forever”, certainly implies victory. Though that victory rings differently knowing the ending Theth has is only on the other side of the page. So the conclusion, overall, is confused. It’s great to love comics — to implant them within your life — but at what cost? Or is there a cost? Comics are more the outcome of all the other shit we’ve seen. Their salvation is both wonderful, yet annoying. Because imagine if we didn’t need them. I think Bayer is giving that some thought.