Gum Girl Volume 2
By Andi Watson
So, I loved Volume 1, the kids at school loved Volume 1, and the British Comic Awards Committee loved Volume 1 enough to recently nominate it for the Young People’s Comic Award 2012.
Volume 2? Just as good.
The cover says it all so very well really. Big, bold, bright pink, a title with a big, big exclamation mark, character description so fitting; “she’s got gum and she’s not afraid to use it“. This really is Andi Watson letting loose with everything, using much bigger and bolder strokes than we’re really used to, and although I do rather miss his gentler, thoughtful side with his more grown up work, or his delightfully melancholia disguised as a children’s book that was Glister, his cartooning and storytelling is simply too much fun here to allow any disappointment to come through.
Gum Girl, simply put, is a hoot.
We’re back in Catastrophe, back with young Grace, still struggling to find her feet in her new town (and as you can see in that very first page - struggling to find the floor under her feet as well).
But mostly she’s trying to juggle the responsibility of being a normal schoolgirl and the bubblegum pink superhero Gum Girl at the same time. It’s hard work trying to cope with all the pressures of school, of her dad being the new Headteacher, of making new friends, and all the while having to battle the massive load of weirdness that regularly crops up in this strangest of towns.
One moment Grace can be part of tidying the school for an inspection (with the most FBI looking School Inspectors you’ve ever seen) and the next coming face to face with the dread Dust Bunny spreading dirt, mess, and dust faster than a teenager in a freshly cleaned bedroom. Or she can be out on a rare school trip to the Catastrophe Aquarium and wouldn’t you know it, it all ends up with Gum Girl battling Octopus Prime. And finally in this second volume Grace have a very unseasonal summer visit to Winter Wonderland culminating with the girl with the gum uncovering a child labour sweatshop under the control of Sick St. Nick!
Fun and shenanigans ensue. Shenanigans being the perfect silly word for this perfectly silly comic experience.
But for every over the top ridiculous character and situation, Watson also cleverly mixes in the down to Earth stuff, of Grace coping with her dad being not that great at this whole headteacher lark, counting heads every couple of moments in the Aquarium, even when the whole group in under imminent threat of shark attack. Or when she goes looking for a little handout for some more lab equipment for her bedroom chemistry experiments…
Pure and simple storytelling, ridiculous, silly, farcical things, full of gentle humour alongside the gentle artwork, loading the pages with puns, with more daft ideas than you should really be allowed to get away with. But Watson makes it all work so well, easy going, easy to read, a sure sign of perfect pacing, great storytelling, not showy, just great.
There’s too much great stuff here, I’m spoilt for choice even trying to pick some bits out to talk about but here’s one early on that had me spluttering a coffee:
“Have you noticed anyone acting strangely, secretively, out of character?”
“It’s a … a school full of children. That could describe any of them.”
Frankly I could just stare at most Andi Watson comics for a long time. His art has something of a hypnotic appeal, such simple lines, such a lightweight style, excellence and great beauty through minimalism, each and every gorgeous stroke a little piece of perfection. For Gum Girl he’s using the same slightly thicker line, stripped down style. But it works, and yet again Gum Girl Volume 2 does the business. And I must mention the colouring here, it’s bright, neon pink bright at times, but also subtle and cleverly toned to match the story. Look at that Dust Bunny page above; the washed out grey of the X-Files style school inspectors. That’s bloody ace that is.
I’ve said it time and time before, and I’ll say it again and again until I don’t need to anymore, Andi Watson is one of Britain’s best young cartoonists, creating perfection on the page, whether for young or old. This time it’s definitely for younger readers, all wrapped in bubblegum pink, yet there’s so much perfect comic making in these small adventures that us old gits will close the book with huge, stupid grins plastered over our faces. Watson does it again, as predictable as night follows day, but never something to take for granted, perfection never is.
Now, will someone give Watson enough money that he can make more and more comics, maybe one all-ages series and a grown-up series a year – yes, that really would be perfection.
Gum Girl Tentacles Of Doom! is out now, and the third book in the quartet will be out early 2013. I can’t see that being anything less than wonderful either.