Unended By Josh Bayer, 282 pgs.

Mar 19, 2024

Have you ever turned on some abstract, not-quite-ready-for-prime-time movie in the middle of the night when you couldn’t sleep? And then have that movie infiltrate your thoughts for the entirety of the next day? That’s what Josh Bayer’s latest graphic novel Unended did to my brain.

Unended is part autobiographical, part play written by Bayer’s late father, and a very small part is devoted to Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead captaining a starship. It starts with Josh explaining how he’s not used to doing any sort of non-fiction, but challenged himself to do a comic based off his father’s unfinished play. He takes us back to his childhood in the ’70s where his two brothers and he lived with their aloof father. Young Josh showed his despondent dad comics he drew, only to have them comically thrown back in his little face.

The timeline in the book goes from past to present to surrealism with every page turn. We see adult Josh sitting with his brothers by his dad’s deathbed. On the next page, he’s a kid admiring his older brothers’ comics. Then, he’s an adult chatting with friends about a play that’s clearly about his brothers and him (and not in any sort of flattering way). And on the next page we’re watching Lemmy fight off space slimes. It’s really all over the place and that’s by no means a bad thing.

How can I describe Josh Bayer’s style? He’s a contemporary of Raymond Pettibon (who is also featured in the intro), if that gives you an idea. Think of a classically trained illustrator who just said “fuck it” and designs his characters however they want, with no worry about consistency. Sometimes characters have one gigantic swollen arm and a tiny head. And in the next panel they look drastically different. It’s messy, but not because of Bayer’s lack of talent. He knows what he’s doing. He splashes it with darkness, with some soft, moody colors that remind me of movie posters from the ’70s. Every single page is worth giving a good, hard stare to take in its surreal majesty and snoop out little details you didn’t notice while reading. I seriously had to take a break from it for a bit because I was straining my old man eyes. I really like the dramatic way Bayer draws bed sheets; as if they’re always made of silk and look like death shrouds.

His father’s unfinished play only takes up a couple of pages of the book. The rest is Josh reminiscing on his youth, struggling with the quality of his output and where he comes from—drawings of Ghost Rider on a cross, going to a Bela Legosi play—and trying to fathom what his dad was all about. He’s being totally transparent about himself even with all these wild detours.

Is this comic for everybody? Probably not. But it is unique and stands out if you’re an avid comic reader who’s looking for something that fucks with the threshold of the medium. And it sticks with you days later. I would even recommend it for folks who don’t even read comics. It’s 282 pages of illustrations that your eyes will soak up like two little .93” sponges. That colorful description is an image you might end up seeing in a Josh Bayer comic. –Rick V. (uncivilizedbooks.com)

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