Best Of British: Tim Bird Takes On A Journey To The Great North Wood

by Richard Bruton

As Tim Bird‘s longest comic to date, The Great North Wood, tells you, there was once a huge part of South London covered in green, that’s only really remembered today in the names of the areas covering what was the Great North Wood, a few patches of ancient green amongst the suburban contamination.

And here, with a lyrical, poetic journey of rather beautiful and engaging psychogeography, Bird takes us through time and space, as he uncovers the history of London. Simple, yet thought-provoking,

Our spirit guide, of sorts, is a fox, first met rooting through the detritus of urban life, feasting on some generic fried chicken outside small shops. But, with the turn of a page, Bird sends us back, across blank white wasteland, to lush, green times. So many trees, the fox is in the forest, and the forest? Well, “The forest filled with magic“, with a feast of fairies, sprites, elves, green men, witches, demons, gods and goddesses.

And, having set the scene for us, having gone back to nature, he slowly starts to unfold the history of the changes, getting poetic and political, lyrical and languid, his storytelling letting time unfold around us, about our fox avatar, a silent witness to advancement…

Like so much of Bird’s previous work, The Great North Wood deals with people and their place in the environment, although it might be more accurate to say the people and how they affect their environment, how time and population have altered, scarred, even destroyed a landscape. Like another of his works that I loved, From The City To The Sea, it’s a beautiful and a lyrical journey, not necessarily in space, but in time, tracking the area of the Great North Wood back and forth in time. Where City To The Sea is a journey from busy city to the coast, watching the changing environment, The Great North Wood is more fixed in place, as we watch things shift from the urban grey sprawl of today, back to the green, lush forest, with its myths, it’s legends, its stories.

But once it does this, the next movement in this piece is to track forward, looking at the changes as the world moves ever onwards, but still finding time to tell those stories, those storytellers tales once more, forever as they were.

All through, Bird’s imagery is so simple, yet so evocative, giving us so much in so few lines, a perfect backdrop to hang the lyrical ideas of time and place from. But, there’s also a storyteller’s rhythm to the tale, with its mix of tight pages of 3×4 grids and bigger, full-page pieces, dictating the flow of the tale, allowing us moments to open up, to reflect, to absorb the impact of what’s gone before, what’s yet to come.

The Great North Wood is a beautiful piece of comics work, the sort of drifting, delicate, thoughtful thing that I have to admit to being very partial to. But, it’s a wonderfully immersive experience, something that rewards your time, gives you more as you give yourself to the pace and the rhythm of the work, letting the slow passage of time control your reading. Let it overwhelm you, intrigue you, entertain you, delight you, it’s yet another beautiful example of what comics can be, something the best of British comics have been doing for many years now.

The Great North Wood by Tim Bird is published by Avery Hill Publishing – if you want a good Tim Bird primer, I’d definitely look at Grey Area, From The City To The Sea. You can buy The Great North Wood here and here.

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