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  • Words: Renee French
  • Art: Renee French
  • Inks: N/A
  • Colors: N/A
  • Story Title: The Ticking
  • Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
  • Price: $19.95
  • Release Date: Apr 5, 2006

In the startling new book called The Ticking, Renee French explores the relationship between beauty, ugliness, fathers, sons and the time that passes in their lives.

I’m having trouble getting this book out of my system. My second time through the book, and it’s nearly impossible to shake.

Renee French’s return to long form graphic novels with The Ticking is a haunting trip that reveals as much as it hides. A decade after her debut with uniquely disturbing indie comics like Grit Bath and The Ninth Gland, and after a brief sojourn through the world of children’s books and it seems that Ms. French hasn’t lost her touch. In fact, it seems as though she’s returning with her strongest, most resonant book to date.

For those unfamiliar with the work of Renee French-- http://www.reneefrench.com/ --, it is often rooted in the grotesque, yet utterly simple and sweet world that might be seen from a troubled child’s point of view. The work is often very dark, with an almost fetishistic fascination with surgery, drawn in seemingly obsessive detail. Yet, it’s simultaneously not-for-the-faint-of-heart and heart-warming. French has created her own razor’s edge upon which she dances nimbly.

The Ticking is the story of a freakishly deformed young boy named Edison Steelhead and his father Calvin, as Edison grows into manhood. After a tragic turn of events, Cal brings his baby boy to Steelhead Island, where the pair can live apart from a world of revulsion. Edison’s only recourse to the isolation is to meticulously observe the world around him.

There are so many layers to Edison’s story that a second reading was only more moving. Story points are made clear, but not explicitly spelled out. Calvin and Edison have such movingly distinct points of view with their plight, yet each have such a great emotional authenticity that might be missed for their bizarre appearance. While Calvin’s response to the defect is to hide it, Edison hasn’t yet discovered his own feelings.

Since those initial releases in the early 1990s, French’s artwork has moved in a completely different direction. It’s softer around the edges than her early work, rendered as though it had been drawn nearly exclusively with the side of her pencil than the vigorously cross-hatched and darkly inked earlier works like Grit Bath, or the stippled brilliance of her collaboration with Penn Gillette, Rheumy Peepers and Chunky Highlights. French uses a masterful shading technique to create a look that is strangely alienating while it is also achingly familiar.

At times this book seems like a cross between The Ugly Duckling and The Innsmouth Look. Renee French has finely balanced the horrific nature of her story and characters with the warm caress of a loving parent. The Ticking is a book that won’t stop after the last page has been turned.

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