By Tim Bird
Right, here’s an A4 piece of black and white comic tourism, a words and pictures journey across a nocturnal London in three small movements, three short interconnecting, drifting pieces, of those who work the night, those who walk the night, and those who try to find love in the night.
Grey Area begins with Nightshift, where the tail end revelers and late journeyers have all gone home, the tube stations are all closed, the power is off, and the nightshift workers get down onto the tracks for the nightly cleanup. It’s practically a good BBC documentary thing done in poetic comic form, telling the tale of the men and women working the nightshift, their world defined by darkness rather than light, their lives cut off from those living above ground and in the light.
(Nightshift – from The Grey Area issue 1 by Tim Bird)
The second tale is Nightwalker, where we follow an insomniac around the night-time streets, apart from the numerous events and people he finds there, a detached shadowy figure.
And in sharp, neon lit and nightclub loud contrast, the final tale is Nightlife, where the story focuses tightly on those finding love in the darkness, and in the artificial lights of the streets of the capital.
(Nightwalker from The Grey Area issue 1 by Tim Bird)
It’s very obviously not a straightforward narrative tale. Everything across the three tales of Grey Area is meant to drive the reader to question, to analyse, to let the mind drift as the eye is intended to drift across the pages. This isn’t so much a short story as it is a piece of interconnected poetry, riffing on the theme of living through darkness.
(Nightlife from The Grey Area issue 1 by Tim Bird)
Bird has a really nice turn of phrase at times, but although this is a really nice comic there’s a feeling here of nearly but not quite, good yet not brilliant, the potential frustratingly there.
Part of the problem is in the art, where Bird shows a roughness on the figure-work compared to the art focusing on the architecture and landscape, and the imagery and language doesn’t quite flow smoothly and beautifully as we all want it to at times. And to illustrate that, here’s a little three-panel sequence from Nightshift, complete with lovely art, slightly less lovely figure-work, and a wonderful line packed with imagery to end with: “invisible in hi-visibility clothing”.
(Nightshift from The Grey Area issue 1 by Tim Bird)
The obvious touchstone with Grey Area (at least from my recent reading) is Simon Moreton’s Smoo, but Bird can never quite reach the heights of emotional evocation through minimalism that Moreton achieves with his later work. But that’s exactly the point here; Moreton didn’t manage it back when I first read his work either, so there’s always a way forward, a way to refine the imagery, to get that perfect poetic flow that feels as though it’s sitting here just beneath the surface.
Grey Area might be flawed, but there’s such potential here, something very nice. Copies of Gray Area 1 are available from the Avery Hill webstore.