Review – The Great North Wood (Avery Hill)

Avery Hill Publishing
Written and illustrated by: Tim Bird
Release Date: 23rd June 2018 (East London Comic Art Festival)

Long ago the entirety of Southern England was cloaked in dense forests. Since then this natural beauty has been gradually eroded away through necessity, the ravages of war, and cold, hard progress. Nowadays only small islands of green remain, serving as poignant reminders of the way this particular part of the country once looked — and serving as the inspiration behind the latest offering from British Comic Award-winning cartoonist Tim Bird.

Right from the opening page, which features a fox picking at the scraps of a fried chicken box on an urban street, Bird does a tremendous job of blending the modern with the historic and the fantastical, providing us with a series of broadly connected short stories about different parts of the Great North Wood.

We get to learn about historical figures and landmarks along the way, from fortune tellers to folk heroes, experiencing first-hand the way their lives and legends were irrevocably impacted by the trees and foliage all around them. Durain’t the course of  these stories, Tim reminds us of the present-day reality – housing blocks where villages once were, grey concrete where mighty oak trees once stood – adding a sense of poignancy and historical perspective to places we might otherwise walk straight past.

There’s a simplicity to Bird’s visual style that belies the depth of storytelling on display. The level of detail is minimal throughout, and there’s a rudimental approach to some the artwork that makes it a feel almost unfinished in places, but boy does it work to help nail the narrative beats throughout the course of these 68 pages.

Featuring wonderfully panel-heavy pages which help to show the gradual shifting of the landscape over time, Bird provides a striking visual representation of the way history can continue to be seen in modern landscapes. The colour palette is stripped-down and muted throughout, but this isn’t a book that needs any unnecessary flash or flair. Indeed, the strength of Bird’s storytelling and knack for bringing the past and present together is more than enough to keep the pages turning here.

There’s more than a hint of sadness throughout the course of book, with the lush natural beauty of the woods – and all the magic that goes along with it – gradually fading away, being replaced over time by cold, harsh concrete – frequently for no other reason than some vaguely defined pursuit of “progress”.

It’s not an overly dour or sanctimonious affair though, as Bird also takes time to appreciate the beauty of the modern day, ending on a somewhat uplifting note as he appreciates that the magic of the past is still very much present in the here and now, and doing so with a visual flourish that’s bound to raise a smile.

Honestly, it’s a damn shame that the British Comic Awards don’t still exist in the same format as they used to, because if they did, I have no doubt that Mr Bird would be on the verge of adding a second trophy to his mantelpiece. A celebration of history, imagination and the magic of Mother Nature, The Great North Wood is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read that comes highly recommended.

ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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