Published by Top Shelf Productions, Renee French’s The Ticking (2006) is a graphic novel worth picking up if you missed it the first time around. The Ticking is a deceptively simple story about a boy named Edison Steelhead living with his father on a small island. Edison’s life does not get off to a great start; his mother dies after giving birth to him. Edison is also born sharing his father’s facial deformities. Edison’s father tries to shield his son from the outside world and takes extremes measures to do so.
Overall, the storytelling is impressive, thoroughly informed by the graphic novels own presentation. The Ticking is a gorgeous hardcover clothbound book. The rich brown cover of the book is decorated with gilded, drawn scrollwork. The ominous central image on the cover is a small figure with a box over its head. Details like these defiantly make the book feel like a special, precious object to behold rather than just another story. The Ticking unfolds slowly with its pages only containing one or two panels each. This slower pace creates an eerie tension. French skillfully takes her time with the story, allowing the reader time to consider the strange world Edison lives him. French’s soft style of penciling enhances the dreamlike haziness of this world.
With Edison, French has created a masterful example of expert character design. First, he simply looks fantastic with his baldhead, rounded features, and wide-set eyes. In addition, Edison has a rather appealing limpness to him, at times almost resembling a worn, favorite childhood toy. He is also a smart and sweet character that you immediately want to protect. This perceived vulnerability could easily tip The Ticking into becoming an overly saccharine story. However, French balances the precocious and sweet by placing him within an idiosyncratic and creepy world. Edison has a unique perspective on the world and loves to draw. He fights to assert his own identity and have a life off of the small island. I loved how French includes examples of Edison’s drawings. Done in a different style from the rest of the cartooning, they resemble etchings.
Edison is a character that stays with you. Like The Ticking, he creeps up on you and refuses to leave. More than being simply charmed by the story, I was truly inspired by it. Edison refuses to live with limitations on his happiness. Ultimately, his story is one of embracing difference as strength. The Ticking is truly a storytelling triumph and I strongly encourage everyone to add a copy to his or her library.