Renee French has been making comics for twenty years, steadily reducing the amount of horror, transgression, and creepiness, and upping the cuteness levels. There is a cuteness to her earliest work, that feels loaded with horror just on the other side of it. Now, as she serializes a humor strip on the internet, you read it waiting for the other shoe to drop, as the soft fog of the background suggests something lurking beyond it.
A random page from The Ninth Glad genuinely scared me, when I first read it in middle school. It gave me the creeps. Children are so often protagonists in Renee’s work, and that’s part of what makes it so scary: The placing of characters in situations you know they can’t deal with or understand. In the newer work, like The Ticking, the situations the characters are placed in are sadder: They’re not necessarily going to be traumatized by a single incident so much as they’re going to grow up wanting something they’ve never been given.
In the more humorous work she’s been doing recently, the kids have coping devices like sarcasm and vulgarity, but still: There is a reality beyond their ability to grasp it. Knowing Renee’s oeuvre helps understand what exactly the rules for that reality are, how cold and violent it can become.
Renee also does straight children’s books, which I have not read, but seem like another part of the puzzle, a spot on the continuum far enough away from the harsh work’s inkblot to have no dark shadows.
- Brian Nicholson