Reviews: Gum Girl Volume 4 – Music, Mischief and Mayhem….
What you’re getting with Volume 4 of Gum Girl is a bit of a masterclass in making everything look rather effortlessly brilliant, simple invention, easy laughs, classy storytelling and art that is so beautifully organic and flowing.
Because by now, with this fourth volume of Andi Watson’s rose-hued, bubblegum-tastic tale of a girl defending her new town of Catastrophe from three more rascally reprobates, you should be well prepared for what you’re getting. Not that you need to experience volumes 1-3 before this, each story stands alone.
Right from the first page the laughs are there, as Grace and her mom are debating colour choices for her room, with such delights as ‘coral wallop’, ‘neutron burst’, ‘crimson strorm’ (Grace’s choices) and ‘soft pebble’, ‘snoozy calico’ and my absolute favourite ‘muted field mouse’ (mom’s choice).
I could have said, back in that first paragraph, that Grace was defending her town against evil, but to be honest that’s not the deal here, this is a far gentler adventure than you’ll find in the less coral-coloured comics. Because, lets face it, grim and gritty is so 1990s, and Gum Girl is so much better, so much more interesting, so much more fun, so much more pink, and so much more funny than that.
As with all three previous Gum Girl volumes, there are three stories in here, with Gum Girl battling Pigment Princess and the peril of a pigment-free palette, mute misadventures with Mime Man, and the free-spirit stealing Stick Man. Each tale ties easily into Grace’s home and school life; whether it’s painting her room, listening to her music far too loud, or expressing her identity (secret and otherwise) at the school non-uniform day.
First tale; Colour Clash, sees the Pigment Princess, formerly Pam Tone (it’s the little punny things that make you smile all through isn’t it?) put GG through the colour blender; making her seasick green, giving her a case of the washed out blues, and ending up under a horrible black cloud of despair and depression.
And when Mime Man takes away all the sound in calamity with his bubble of silence, we get not only a fun story, but a great chance to look at Watson’s expert storytelling. Nothing is wasted, nothing is spare, it all serves the story, everything flows so effortlessly, the sort of effortless that takes a lot of high quality work.
The gags in No Noize all come visually, and so many of them come through Watson’s ace use of signs….
…. and then, once the fists start flying….
Laugh? Oh yes, long and loud.
But my favourite Gum Girl story of the twelve Watson presents across all four volumes is saved right till the end. Watson always litters his work with clever moments, and there’s so much for adults and children to enjoy. But here, in Uniform Uproar, he really goes for it; conformity on the agenda, with the school protected (from who knows what?) by its own faceless, mirthless, heartless security detail, and the kids celebrating a non-uniform day, a heroes and villains themed non-uniform day. No, Grace doesn’t go as Gum Girl. But others do. A mix up is not just inevitable, but practically compulsory.
The party-pooper this time is Stick Man, he of the blank, featureless face, a technological accident determined to rid the world of its individuality, to draw a line under all that childish imperfection, as his copies start preping the masks, and everyone in school seems destined to become ‘one of us’, ‘one of us’, ‘one of us’, ‘one of us’, ‘one of us’, ‘one of us’.
It’s actually a little scary. Probably more scary for us adults, harking back to ideas of Stepford Wives and Bodysnatchers.
And to end it all, there’s my favourite character of the whole Gum Girl series; Grace’s oft putupon Dad, who gets to deliver the perfect line, time after time, but never moreso than here, right at the end:
“Being attacked by super-villains is practically part of the curriculum now, so quiet down everyone”
Takes it all in his stride, which may well be applied to our enjoyment of Watson’s comics. With four volumes of Gum Girl, Watson has consistently delivered such quality, such great fun. It’s been a pleasure to read them all. But sometimes it’s easy to look at something that reads so well and so easy and to fail to grasp the skill and the artistry involved. Gum Girl, like everything Watson puts his name to, is effortless quality, a near perfect read.