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Asleep in the Back (review)

Writer / artist: Tim Bird

Avery Hill Press, 2023

“Time drives onwards. Year after year like a constant stream of traffic flowing endlessly along the motorway,” is a beautiful observation contained in this title, Asleep in the Back, created by Tim Bird and published by Avery Hill Press. Avery Hill Press, in our experience, rarely misses a beat. We have previously noted that the publisher’s name on the spine of any graphic novel is an indicia of quality. This charming title maintains that tradition.

There is no plot. The story itself is very straightforward. It captures the quiet, necessary journeys of youth and parenthood to visit far-flung relatives. Mr Bird’s simple art captures the way points of these travels, the overpasses, the churches, the descent of twilight, the twin moons of each approaching car. Perhaps the most endearing panel is the glance of Mr Bird’s father into the rear-view mirror, only the outline of his eyeglasses reflected, as he checks on the precious cargo in the backseats. The family drive is an inter-generational exercise in love and devotion, existing on multiple levels.

Towns pass by with names, to someone not raised in Britain, like fiefdoms from Game of Thrones. Other than that, the subject matter is entirely familiar. As a child in the 1970s, your reviewer used to take long drives to visit an uncle and aunt every easter and sometimes Christmas, with the tyres drumming a low beat on the road, and the trees a squinting blur outside the window. Mr Bird correctly describes the hypnotic effect of the thrum of the journey. As a parent to children born in the 2010s, repeating the same road trip every holiday, the lulling and low vibrations are diluted by those machines of distraction, the iPad: Peppa Pig‘s snorting, then replaced by Bluey‘s contagious giggles, and now the cackling mayhem of Monkey D. Luffy and his posturing adversaries in One Piece. It makes the trip go faster for the kids, but at what cost? In Asleep in the Back, Mr Bird spares us the encroachment of modern technology upon the family car ride. But, as revealed in the unexpected final page of this title (to which your reviewer smiled broadly in delight), perhaps his children are as yet too young. Mr Bird does not need a dedication in the beginning of the title for us to know who the story is for.