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The Ticking
posted February 27, 2006


Creator: Renee French
Publishing Information: Top Shelf, March, 216 pages, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: MAY06343 (Diamond), 1891830708 (ISBN)

Here's where we are in comics right now: something as beautifully realized both inside and out as The Ticking can be had at an on-line seller's discount for just about the price of four dopey comic books you can get off of the racks at any comic book shop. I know there are massive problems with such a comparion even beyond the arrogance of suggesting someone prefer one experience over another, and the fact that's nowhere near an exact comparison even if you drop all the other values that might go into any reasonable person's criteria for picking something up. Still it's the one that keeps rattling around in my head. You can have The Ticking for $14 -- why wouldn't you want to buy it?

Mine came free, sat on my end table for a few evenings, and then climbed into bed with me for the next six days. That's right: I read The Ticking six nights in a row. Always a cartoonist capable of lurid, visceral moments, French has toned down the more extreme elements of past comics work in favor of a kind of sustained melancholy. Edison Steelhead's mother dies during childbirth. His father takes him to an island and plans for corrective surgery. Eventually, Edison balks and leaves. A reunion falls just short. It's a simple story, and by dropping the moments that shock you're no longer encouraged to see some of the characters' sillier moments as preludes to something awful to come. They're just moments, many of them sensual, in a life where memory fails to seize on things in the order of importance.

If I had to write an essay for my English 204 class, I'd say a lot of The Ticking concerns itself with art. The father with the corrected face has given up on it; Edison tries to connect to his father through it. We see Edison's artistic endeavors as they grow in sophistication and skill. A monkey character named Patrice complicates this too facile insight, unless somehow French was saying the lack of artistic ambition makes someone slightly less than human, an extreme stance hard to reconcile with the symapathy and love French obviously brings to the character. I'm not sure everything is supposed to connect together outside of the world French portrays. Within that world, French's story confronts awkwardness, ambition, wanting to be loved, wanting to be involved in someone's life, the value of education and many other ideas with all of the perspective, power and ease the best cartoonists share. The Ticking isn't an ambitious story, or a particularly long one, and may get lost -- even this year -- to stories that have a broader sweep; but it's a jewel. I'll read it many more times than six before I'm through.