Remember when you felt totally isolated from everything around you? Remember when your only joy came in escaping what then constituted your existence? Remember feeling like you had to encase yourself in some sort of armor in order to keep from exploding?
Josh Bayer remembers. His 80 page black and white release from Retrofit Comics titled Theth documents this.
Theth is a brutal read, where even its moments of humor are tinged with horror. It's a psychotic bildungsroman of sorts; characters in this book only serve to torture, in some way, the young titular hero – Theth has few positive role models for behavior (though everyone keeps giving him advice) and he finds solace only in the world of comic books. Bayer's loose art style and heavy inking mirrors the emotional tone of the book and adds further chaos to the read.
And yet there is something powerful at work here, as if Bayer is able to capture a purely visceral moment and subsequently communicate it directly to his audience. It's as if there is no filter between the artist's emotional sensibilities and your reaction to them. There is a rawness at work in Theth that is unlike any other comic I've read.
Bayer describes his book as:
“... the story of the winter of 1980. In the shadow of the days following John Lennon's murder, a strange preteen, dressed inexplicably in a spacesuit, wanders the wastelands of suburban Ohio struggling with the nameless forces that surround him and the seemingly well meaning but ultimately sinister adults he encounters every day. He numbly navigates the universe around him and within him, obsessed with comicbook heroes like Mr. Incompleto, ROM, and Zero Sum, who seem to occupy a void only he is aware of. His name is Seth but everyone calls him THETH.”
Yet this description only details the surface of the narrative. The pleasure of reading Theth comes from how it connects, how it disturbs, and how it bridges. You find yourself rooting for Theth even though he does little that's redemptive, shows hardly any strength of character, and is in some ways kind of a shit. Still, he is the consummate outsider, encased as he is in his spacesuit. His youth and ignorance, his innocence especially, make him a mirror from which your own insecurities are cast back. Theth is faceless, insomuch as he wears all of our faces.
Through Theth, Bayer conveys the pathos and poignancy of feeling unconnected and adrift in a world that makes little sense, which is populated by people who are cruel and self-serving. It's a messy place to walk through and Theth is a messy comic.