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The Ticking
By Renee French
Publlished by Top Shelf Productions; $19.95 USD

Renee French's The Ticking invites you into a strange world of secrets and deformity, an intimate exploration of the life of Edison Steelhead. Eddie's mother dies bringing him into the world, and his father is loving, nurturing even, but keeps certain truths at a distance perhaps out of a desire to protect his son.

French translates her own life experience to show us Eddie's world, but it's not autobiography. In fact, French told me in an interview last year that her "real life doesn't end up in [her] comics much at all," but conceded that her "relationship with [her] father was all over the story." This sensation of genuine emotion keeps us interested in the mysteries of Eddie's life, as he discovers and becomes fascinated with the strange scars on his father's head. Eddie's fascination with masks and diagrams further reflect a child's twin paradoxical desires to hide and yet to understand everything in every detail. Eddie feels like a real child, and that provides a foundation for our journey through his sometimes mundane, sometimes bizarre experiences.

Childhood is a time filled with mystery and confusion for even the most "normal" of children, but Eddie's youth is filled with extraordinary discoveries and unexplained events, from the chimpanzee that is introduced as his new sister to the strange patterns that a doctor draws on his face. It is no wonder that he is comforted by trying to map and diagram the strangeness that is all around him, and French's lush illustrations invite a slow study and full exploration of every nook and cranny of the tale. Like the best storytellers, you're left with the sense that French is in full control of the story and the world in which it takes place. French may not tell all, but she knows all, or conveys that impression through her masterful narrative choices. The reader is left with the sense that there are answers to the mysteries, if we just look long enough into the beautiful otherworld inside The Ticking.

The novel feels like the culmination of everything French has done up until now, from the shorter narratives collected in Marbles in My Underpants to her children's books The Soap Lady and Tinka (the latter under the pseudonym Rainy Dohaney). There's a real feeling of forward movement in French's talents, a more confident storytelling combined with a strong sense of pacing and visual inventiveness. The individual panels seem somewhat randomly arranged, one panel on this page, two on the next, and then a larger image from Eddie's sketchbooks -- but it's all French controlling our sense of time as we wander through Eddie's life, carefully parsing out the big moments and even more carefully arresting our attention as we consider the significance of the very smallest details.

The Ticking is a story that will reach across boundaries and appeal to readers of every age, gender and interest. It's an involving and deeply human mystery about the most fundamental elements that make up a life. It's a new high point in the already impressive career of one of the best cartoonists working today, and it's a story sure to reward all the many times you will return to it years after you first experience its wonders. Grade: 5/5

The Ticking will be released by Top Shelf Productions in April, 2006

-- Alan David Doane

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Alan David Doane
Comic Book Galaxy Reviews
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Glens Falls NY 12801

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The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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