David Robertson regularly looks backwards in his comics. That’s not to say his comics are regressive, but rather, he looks backwards in a nostalgic sense. No matter how strange his off-the-cuff story-telling or artistic prowess appears, his work is mostly defined by a retreat into past perspectives that help to formulate the comics themselves. Having maintained his momentum as an engaging creator of short-form sequential story-telling with the likes of But a Dream! and Break the Cake, his most recent comic, Bell Time, sees Robertson open up a larger canvas for his distinct talents and with it a mild evolution, from nostalgia to reflection.
Given the nostalgic leanings of Robertson’s comics, produced under the banner of Fred Egg Comics, it feels very suitable then that Bell Time‘s concept of “a kind of body swap/time travel tale”, as is explained on the comic’s front cover. Bell Time‘s inspiration comes from Robertson’s own experiences as a library assistant in a secondary school, the main character of which fills that role. With this context in mind, Bell Time instantly feels like a reflective sort of comic, as if Robertson is looking back on his own life. Oddly enough, the time travel aspect sees Weston Gulley High School pupil Lenny McNeill unexpectedly and spontaneously flung into the future where he’s aged and now a teacher. It’s curious for a Fred Egg Comic to look forward rather than backward, but doing so means Bell Time instantly has your attention.
Now seemingly trapped in a timeline and authoritative role he’s unprepared for, Bell Time‘s true themes come into focus. The idea of reflection rears its head more solidly as the comic progresses. Lenny’s exploration of this new and strange world results in a barrage of internal monologues, reflecting on his situation whilst trying to pass himself off as a normal member of staff. Robertson offsets this internal mood with a melancholic unease in the comic’s shape and colour. His characteristic, thinly-detailed line art remains steadfast, whilst the pale green colours and formalised panel structure lends a sense of normality inside this odd world Lenny finds himself in.
Indeed, there’s nothing overly out of place in this future timeline. Everything appears recognisable in its normality. It’s how Lenny views this new world from his newly formed perspective as an adult that adds to the strangeness, highlighting the reflective nature of Bell Time. Throughout this character-driven story, Robertson concentrates Bell Time‘s visuals on the staff and students of Weston Gulley High School, an energetic array of pupils and staff pass by Lenny as he tries to maintain control in the school’s library.
At almost 70 pages in length, Bell Time feels like Robertson’s creativity is in full, languid, deadpan flow. The longer format he allows himself gives his naturally offbeat style more room to breath, resulting in a quiet yet engaging exploration of how attitude and authority are viewed through separate generations. All the hallmarks of your average Fred Egg Comic are here – the deadpan humour, the surrealism, the intimate artwork. Armed with a much longer page length than past comics, Bell Time becomes all the more enjoyably hooky. A definite highlight from Fred Egg Comics.