Posted by Don MacPherson on March 10th, 2013
Grey Area #1 – While the City Sleeps
“Nightshift,” “Nightwalker” & “Nightlife”
Writer/Artist: Tim Bird
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
It’s always fun and interesting to delve into a well-crafted, earnest small-press comics publication. Sometimes, you find a powerful, emerging talent in the world of comics, and sometimes, you find a glimmer of promise in someone who clearly loves the medium to the point that he or she has to be involved with it. With Grey Area, I found someone, Tim Bird, who falls somewhere in the middle of that part of the comics-creation spectrum. He’s told three short stories here in the same setting, on the same night, and he offers three different perspectives, exploring three different aspects of the human condition and experience. It’s an interesting experiment that he ultimately pulls off, but some of the choices in his storytelling, while offering some clarity in the subject matter, keep the reader from completely immersing himself or herself in the atmosphere and mood of the pieces. There’s a great deal of potential here, and some of the storytelling is quite compelling. Overall, I have to say this was a pleasant surprise, especially since this themed collected of short stories ends on a stronger and more positive note.
Late at night, when children sleep and their parents flake out on the couch, there are others who populate the night. In London, especially around the Brixton train station and in Soho, people emerge and live their lives. Some immerse themselves in the revelry of drinks and dance music. Others simply wander the streets, unable to find their way or an ever-elusive night’s sleep. And others toil about their labors, invisible to the throngs whose lives they make more convenient as they tend to the manners in which so many move about the city. It’s night time in London, and there are worlds and lives to discover.
Bird’s greatest strength as an artist is his ability to convey setting. There’s always a strong sense of place in each of the three stories. I would expect he’s drawn from several photo-references (or in-person visits to said locales), but the convincing look of the backdrops tempered the airy tone of the narration, maintaining the realism of the stories. I think Bird would be well advised to expand the array of items in his artistic toolkit. He really ought to employ thinner lines for some elements. His lettering style could use a little tweaking as well. His letters then to be thin and elongated, and for the sake of clarity, more defined, squarer characters would probably serve the work better.
His eye for anatomy isn’t as strong as his settings, but he nevertheless conveys the humanity of his various characters. His style when it comes to rendering people is a bit inconsistent, though. Some of his figures looked simpler in tone, in a style reminiscent of that of Andi (Slow News Day, Skeleton Key) Watson, while other points show the influence of artists who illustrate thicker, slightly more detailed figures, such as Daniel (Wilson, Ghost World) Clowes.
While the notion of the men who tend to the metro system in the dead of night while its users slumber makes for interesting subject matter, I think Bird goes awry, though only slightly, with his approach to the narration. The omniscient narrative voice conveys too much information and in language that’s a bit too flowery. Bird opts to tell us of the woes and challenges of the workers when really, I would have preferred he showed us the nocturnal, unseen and thankless lifestyles the characters have adopted. I don’t think a silent story is the answer either, but I felt as though the narration spelled things out too overtly. Nevertheless, as I noted before, I think exploring such unconventional and invisible vocations is interesting and makes for good storytelling. The second story focuses on an insomniac’s meanderings through London, but to call it a story might be stretching things a bit. The nature of the conflict is left unsaid. We’re given no indication as to why he can’t sleep, as to what might be haunting him and driving him out into the night. There’s definitely a tragic tone to it, but the reader really needs more details about the nature of that tragedy.
The final segment is the strongest of the three… or perhaps it’s just the radically different tone that makes it so engaging. The first two tales are dark and, at the very least, unfortunate in tone. The third piece, “Nightlife,” focuses on how people take to the night to let loose, to celebrate life. The night-club/pub scene is far behind me, but there’s no denying the value of the adventure, revelry and madness of a night of drink and ridiculous dancing can offer. It was easy to relate to it, and while there wasn’t a clear plot here either, it served as an importance counter-balance in the book. Finally, I enjoyed how the three stories intersected with one another but weren’t dependent on one another either. Each is something like a piece of the puzzle, but each piece has its own full picture to offer as well. 6/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.