Andi Watson’s Gum Girl – perfect, polished, pop (in pink)

Published On March 19, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Comics For Children, Reviews

Gum Girl Volume 1 – Catastrophe Calling

By Andi Watson

Walker Books

It’s been nearly two years since Andi Watson’s last four volume series for Walker Books finished. That was Glister, and it was as sweet, sentimental, full of a melancholy wistfulness as you could wish for, a perfect little comic for adults AND children, with Volume 3; The Faerie Host the one that really stood out as exceptional. Andi Watson’s career as a cartoonist, as an artist has been perhaps underrated, but not here. His work never fails to impress.

And now we have his next 4-volume series with Walker; Gum Girl. If Glister was sweet and sentimental, mixing laughs, beautiful artwork, and a hint of melancholy sadness, then Gum Girl is all out bubblegum pink adventuring, with all three stories in this volume sure to appeal so strongly to the growing group of young girl readers we have in school.

There she is, young Grace Gibson, moving to a new town, a new school. Which would be bad enough, but her dad’s the headmaster of Calamity Primary and just that first page should have enough to tell you that Catastrophe is no ordinary town; the active volcano and giant robot early hints of what’s to come for Grace.

In the three stories here she’ll have to navigate the troubled socio-political environment of the school playground, where the girls have the most perfect hair. But alongside that struggle she’ll be called into action to face down dire threats against Clamity School and the town of Catastrophe. She quickly realises that Catastrophe just isn’t the safest, or nicest of towns. No-one seems to help anyone else, all these crazy things happen and no-one seems to care. The people are just used to it all, accepting their place, merely putting up with all the weirdness and letting the villains get away with it all. And such villains… The Titanium Avenger Professor Roboticus, the hair-raising villainy of Rapunzel, and worst of all the evil that is Oliver Ramsey, the celebrity chef determined to bring his super salads to the school dinner plate. Boo, and hiss.

If only there was some way she could do something about it….. but surely stuff like bizarre accidents to create superheroes only happen in comics?

Good job this is a comic then Grace…..

Luckily, she’s not going to have to face these threats as Grace Gibson, schoolgirl. No, thanks to that unfortunate accident with a chemistry set and some bubblegum, she gets to battle evil, villainy, and the threat of no more chips as the spectacular, the heroic, the very, very pick Gum Girl.

Although she does have one small problem to overcome first…..

But before long, she’s up and running, supersuit all made, gum at the ready, and springing into action, determined to face whatever threat Catastrophe can throw at her, because from now on she’s Gum Girl!

Three stories, three adventures, three tales packed with fun. This is the perfect bubblegum pink pop record given comics form. Each story clocks in at 20-pages, quick, satisfying chunks of frothy pink fun, but across the three stories Watson builds characterisation in, delivers characters the children should grow to love. It’s not all about superheroing, and there’s plenty of simple school stuff, with Grace settling in, making friends, finding her way. And it’s that mix of riotous action and down to earth stuff I’m really confident the children at school will absolutely love.

There’s something of another favourite in here as well, as the school setting and great female lead (not to mention the giant robots) puts me in mind of Neill Cameron’s Mo Bot High (and that means I think I have just the candidate for first read of Gum Girl – I reckon Holly will love this).

Gum Girl is another great series from Andi Watson. It looks absolutely gorgeous. Anyone who’s seen his work before will know just how good an artist he is, with action and characters working together to make his pages a joy to look at and to read. You can see from the Gum Girl website just how much design work has gone into this series, and it’s all paid off. The colours took a while to nail down, but the decision to go really bright all adds to the fast and furious, and just all round damn good fun that Gum Girl delivers.

There’s even time for a little behind the scenes stuff in the book, with fun schematics of the town and the school to give you some idea of the trouble Grace will be finding herself in in future volumes.

I loved Gum Girl for what it was; a perfect bubblegum pop song of a comic. But there’s part of me finished it and wished for something a little more substantial. Thing is, it’s not as satisfying for me as Glister and I found myself missing the contrast between the melancholy of Glister’s life and the fun of her adventures.

Yes, there are downbeats to the positive stuff in Gum Girl; Grace’s uncomfortable start at school, her mild homesickness, the missing her old friends, difficulties fitting in, but overall these are very small, mere dips in the mood, and Gum Girl is resolutely positive, upbeat, and cheery. Glister on the other hand seemed, at least to my mind to capture a wider range of emotional scale. The rhythms were balanced, emotions swung full range from despair to elation, perfect balance.

But then again, I have to keep in mind that this is a kids comic, deliberately set up to have kid appeal. Glister was one way of doing kid’s comics, Gum Girl is another. This is about finding an audience, building something. Bright, bubblegum pop has it’s own unique appeal as well.

Heavens, listen to me, moaning that this is just too much fun, too bright, too happy. Grouch. It’s like complaining that Madonna, Kylie or Girls Aloud at their very best were all a bit too happy and poppy. The point of those ladies, just as with Gum Girl is to create the perfect bit of perfect shiny pop, polished and vibrant, moaning that it doesn’t have a huge emotional range is taking it a bit far I think.

I’m off to read it again, bit of Madonna in the background to get into the groove (sorry). You can get Gum Girl from anywhere books and comics are sold. Ask for it if needs be. Lets make this a huge success, just as it deserves.

You can also follow the adventures over at the Gum Girl blog, and Gum Girl Volume 2; The Tentacles Of Doom is published in August.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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