Monday, April 4, 2011

Renee French: The Ticking

Putting The Ticking by gifted illustrator Renée French in my wordless graphic novel series is sort of disingenuous, mostly because there are words. But not a great many of them, and they appear occasionally as captions, rather than in speech balloons as in traditional comics. Like Shaun Tan's The Arrival, The Ticking is mostly what I refer to as a grown-up picture book.

It was originally released in 2006, was out of print for a while, and now is happily back on shelves. It's not a book I see mentioned particularly often, which I think is a shame. Because it's lovely.

It tells the melancholy and funny story of Edison Steelhead, a deformed child (he has no ears and his eyes are on the sides of his head) whose mother dies in childbirth and whose father, who suffers from the same so-called affliction, takes him to live in a remote lighthouse. There he grows up with an interest in etymology and drawing. He makes masks for himself (and his stuffed animal) and wears them. He discovers his father's childhood was much like his, but he won't talk about it with Edison. His father takes him to a plastic surgeon, but Edison doesn't want the surgery, so it doesn't go forward. It's all so odd and heartbreaking. At one point Edison is introduced to his new "sister", Patrice, a baby chimp. Their relationship turns out to be remarkably sibling-like as Edison begrudgingly takes her out on bug gathering expeditions and then gets annoyed in typical big brother fashion when she eats his specimens.

It's a strange little book full of loneliness and silences. French draws simple little square panels with graphite on paper and they are lovely little pieces of art. So seemingly simple they almost feel like they belong in the realm of the folk. For some reason, I have a dream that The Ticking will one day be an animated film. Maybe Wes Anderson could tell this story as he seems to specialize in fathers and sons. And its odd melancholy whimsical tone would suit him, I think.

In the mean time, follow French's blog and read her other comics. She posts lots of drawings and photographs and works in progress.

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