Raw Power

Every page of Josh Bayer's Raw Power overflows with energetic, cruel, high level,  scribbly,  hatched drawing -- this is drawing that isn't afraid to show itself, to make a fool of itself before quickly showing itself for the beautiful thing it actually is. Twisted faces, dashed off caricatures---page after page, Bayer lovingly punches the reader in the face with his art.

Bayer's figures are round and solid, though if you look at their faces it seems for a moment that they were jaggedly hacked out on the drawing board with a blunt instrument. But when you pull your eyes back, you see the delicate drawing involved here. Reading the comic in one sitting--the best way to go with this one--it feels as if Bayer charged himself up, drew ten pages in a brilliant dash, then relented for five pages, gasped for breath (we get to do that, too, in these spots), then recharged, only to repeat the cycle until it all crashes into itself when we close the back cover. The beauty of Raw Power is that it's all incredible, inventive and original drawing.

It's fitting that Raw Power came out the same year Dan Clowes's Death-Ray was reprinted. The Death-Ray solidly jabbed at the inherent fascism of mainstream adventure comics and I think it remains the most stinging critique of the genre's stinking elephant in the room. Raw Power goes at the issue more ferociously (more of a scream than a jab) and we feel as if we're watching the murder and the autopsy--Death-Ray, in comparison, is more of a indictment. Raw Power gives us Cat Man (aka Terry Kaminczyk, a beautiful superhero real name if I've ever heard one). The bargain basement simple mindedness of Cat Man and the brain dead abandon he pummels people with (drawn with a lot of gusto by Bayer) gets at the disgusting nature of power fantasy comics pretty well without condemning them at all. Kind of like giving someone a milkshake and pouring one hundred times more sugar into it than is required--true and revolting.

We are also treated to Bayer's renditions of G. Gordon Liddy--the obvious putrid strain that would inspire a Cat Man. In an interlude to the Cat Man tale, Bayer has Liddy and Carter try to stamp out punk rock and somehow succeeds in making a transgressive, devil may care, and (most of all) righteous take down of Liddy: "I know all about you--you fascist!" "Fascist? You have heard of me!' For all of their fury and bile, underground comics could have used more succinct and elegant take downs like this one (Crumb on Trump, which is a more extended destruction, is one of the few examples I can think of were a noxious persona is laid out this well).

The book ends in spectacular fashion. Cat Man, ready to stamp out anyone who looks the least bit punk, lashes into an innocent bystander, a young woman. When she makes it back to her apartment, her clueless partner offers her a violent comic to read as comfort. Disgusted, she rejects the comic, but Bayer draws it himself so we get to read it. It's Bayer's re-draw of D.P. 7 #6 (yes a New Universe Marvel comic by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan). Bayer takes a comic with lines like 'How 'bout pickin me up some Def Leppard?' and draws the hell out of it. It's almost as if he's destroyed D.P. 7--but there it is, totally understandable and thrilling in the way both Gruenwald and Bayer would want it to be.

This comic has so much ambition--any artist looking at this would be hard-pressed to resist sitting down to draw after getting through with it. While Bayer doesn't make it "look easy" he does make it look like he's doing it his way, and you'd be a fool to not do it your way before it's too late. This comic breaks a lot of closely held comic rules--draw the characters consistently panel after panel, don't vary their weight, height, make them recognizable--in fact it breaks them so strongly that you may want to believe they've been rendered irrelevant. But that only holds true as long as you're with this comic--to make it reality, we have to keep this book close, like the prophecy from a true believer that it is.


11 Responses to Raw Power

  1. Ian Harker says:


    Josh is a total natural.

  2. Box Brown says:

    This is what it’s like reading Josh’s work:
    1) Upon flipping through the pages I feel intimidated by how crazy looking the drawings are.
    2) I am intrigued and amazed by the weirdness of the way the stories are written.
    3) I am charmed by Josh simultaneously throwing away craft and sticking TO craft at the same time. Josh’s has insanely good natural lettering.
    4) Despite having such an original drawing style, Josh’s work emanates a love of comics and cartooning. All of his comics are little love letters to the cartoonists who came before him.
    5) His work is Punk Rock as SHIT.

  3. Pat Aulisio says:

    josh always shoots big and doesnt know when to stop. his work as an editor on suspect device is also a testament to his passion. hes also one of the nicest and easiest to work with guys out there which always helps

  4. Josh is really awesome. And as an artist he makes you feel like ANYTHING is possible. The writing, the drawing, it’s all wild.

  5. Tom Hart says:

    I agree. I think Josh Bayer is the best working cartoonist in America. I’m teaching a workshop based entirely on his Bike Rider and ROM pretty soon at the University of Florida.

    Plus we did a dramatic reading of part of Raw Power on the radio. You can’t stop it!

  6. J.T. Dockery says:

    Yup, between Mr. English speaking well of this book prior to this review, along with Tom Neely, I jumped in a couple months back. Was totally seduced by “Raw Power”/Josh Bayer. Kudos to English for elucidating some of its “power.”

  7. Joaquin de la Puente says:

    Great review Mr. English! Recently Raymond Pettibon called Josh Bayer his favorite living artist. If you look at Josh’s work in not just Raw Power but the ROM serial, Bike Rider, The Fighter and his shorter form work in other publications, you can see why. The muscular embrace and simultaneous fracture of art history, politics and narrative in Bayer’s work represents a new movement in art and comics that he has seem to have created unilaterally. The problem is what to name the currently unnamed… Sado-Post-Humanism? Punk Meta-Structuralism? Street-topian Ultramodern? All of the above? Nonesuch? I’m really psyched to read the next Bayer edited comic comp that is coming out in April: “Suspect Device” #2.

  8. Shannon says:

    Great review! Retrofit is killing it. Raw Power is probably my fave of the bunch, but Bowman and 1999 (just got it yesterday!) are close seconds. I can’t wait to get the rest of the run. Read 1999 the day after I read Mardou’s The Sky in Stereo–those are like brother and sister comics right there.

    Sorry to talk about something other than Bayer, whose comic is perfectly titled. His art is like some Ron Asheton feedback-drenched guitar squall secreted out onto paper. Rock and roll!

  9. Josh is super inspirational! Excellent work as usual.

  10. Samuel Bayer says:

    josh lives and breathes comics—
    his art is amazing and comes s hot wired from his twisted brain
    and pure heart

    i should know–he’s my brother

  11. Scott Grammel says:

    Another week, another art comics masterpiece. Bayer’s work as described and shown above doesn’t look uninteresting, but occasionally holding back on the breathless superlatives might make the reviews and follow-up comments here on tcj look less like a circle jerk.

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