The Ticking

Top Shelf

Written and drawn by Reneé French

Nov 03, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Deservedly back in print after several years, Reneé French's The Ticking is damned clever and well done. There's a certain fragility in both the art and the story that belie reader expectations: a deformed boy whose mother passes in childbirth could be played so many ways, most of them poorly and stereotypically. French powerfully stokes emotions both wistful and awestruck in depicting the mostly quiet, and mostly mundane, moments in the life of Edison Steelhead.

Raised on an island with only his father for company (and, later on, also with a monkey), Edison has an eye for detail and a talent for drawing, through which he shares the things he finds fascinating: bugs, geoducks (a particularly disgusting-looking clam), body parts, and his father's scar. It seems Calvin Steelhead was raised in isolation on this island as well, and for the same reason as he's sequestering his son, but eventually had an operation (or perhaps many) to correct his frog-like eye socket placement.

The boy is made of sturdier stuff and refuses an operation. He even leaves the island to face the world; the lack of fireworks at his doing so is part of what helps sell the book and perhaps makes a point about the nature of being different.

French creates an aesthetic of loneliness even through the panel work, with each page generally holding a mere one or two story panels; the abundant white space complements the quiet and almost looking-through-a-peephole feeling of the narrative. Only Edison's artwork is of a larger scale, which holds the blank space of the margins at bay and conveys the importance of his drawings, beyond even what the art itself holds.

The Ticking is unassuming and unselfconscious, just like its protagonist, and is a very strong, if understated, story of humanity. This is among the finest examples of comics as literature, and merits both criticism and high-level discussion. (www.topshelfcomix.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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