When we move from place to place, we’re bound to forget something and leave it behind. Typically it’s not something all that important – maybe a broom, a sweater, or those odds and ends that accumulate in our cupboards. In Rebecca Bagley’s Tick, our unnamed narrator discovers a forgotten object shortly after moving into a new home. While rummaging in the kitchen for a teacup, our narrator finds a small steam-powered robot. He is “all dust and soot and squeaks and clanks”, with rusted cogs and timers that are beyond help.
The little robot, who cannot speak, seems lost now that he cannot function as he once did. The narrator puzzles over how to give the robot a sense of purpose; jobs are assigned and thoughts are given to repairing him, but nothing seems to work. Both narrator and robot begin to realize that, perhaps, happiness can’t be found solely in the work you do.
Tick is a short story, weighing in at just 40 pages, and is light on the written word. Instead, Bagley’s art does the storytelling. Her work is layered and often involves multiple styles, being at times very painterly, sketchy, and smoky. Newsprint floats up from under her drawings, as do orderly lines that resemble ruled notebook paper. Her style often reminded me of Dave McKean’s illustrations, particularly in regards to the coloring and layered approach. The tiny rusted robot pops against the black and white images of the kitchen. It is the art that will leave you lingering over Tick, examining each page for new details.
This brief story explores issues of identity, self worth, and how we define ourselves by the work we do. While it draws upon the steampunk trend – part of what made me pick it up in the first place – this does not fit in the steampunk genre. Our little robot’s time has come and gone, but he remains. I appreciate what this story is trying to say, but the pacing is a bit off. Upon reaching the critical plot point, the robot suddenly accepts that its life and purpose have changed, without showing the reader what made this transition take place. I also found the writing a bit jarring due to the occasional change in tense as the narrator described the robot.
Though the writing is not as strong as the art, Tick is an enjoyable read and an interesting take on steampunk. The issues explored in this story, as well as the writing style, may appeal more to adult readers than to teens, though there is nothing inappropriate about the subject matter or art. The print quality and binding for this self-published book are both excellent.