Top Shelf Productions’ anthology series Gumballs has thus far been an impressive collection of vignettes about childhood, life as a transgender man, anxiety, retail work, and more. Creator Erin Nations’ geometric art style is memorable, and his coverage of influential life events is poignant. Gumballs #4 is the last issue of the series that will be included in the upcoming first trade paperback; does the title’s first era end on a high note?
As per usual with anthologies, some segments are better than others. With that said, there is a lot of good material here. The issue starts with “The Possessed Board Game,” which is by far the best childhood-focused comic Nations has delivered to date. It takes a seemingly mundane detail from real life (a specific game) and conveys to the reader why it is memorable. Moments like this are among Gumballs‘ best.
Some of this issue’s other strongest comics are those that focus on Nations navigating public life throughout his transition. “Vasectomy” depicts Nations’ interactions with an inadequate health care system, and “Irrational Fears” addresses the issues transgender people face when trying to use restrooms in peace. These comics also address Nations’ experiences with retail work, which are always among the series’ most enjoyable insights. Anyone who has ever worked customer service will relate to Nations’ comics about mannerless customers who act as if workers can defy the laws the physics.
One of my favorite strips in this issue is “One Week at the Sou’wester,” which chronicles Nations’ time on a writer’s retreat. The funniest part of the comic is when Nations describes a gift shop that sells useless items exclusively aimed at tourists. This issue’s personal ad segments are also funny. I didn’t care for these segments in past issues, but Nations’ has polished his comedic timing here. They no longer consist of giant walls of text with no breaks, which helps majorly.
While I enjoy many of this issue’s comics, some others fall flat. With the exception of “The Possessed Board Game,” the childhood-focused comics aren’t particularly affecting or memorable. The Tobias strips are less charming than usual, although “Moving On” makes good use of a grid-like panel layout. Overall, this issue’s least memorable moments are those where it fails to turn the mundane into magic.
Gumballs #4 is an enjoyable read, and features improvements on several of the series’ recurring strips. With that said, there are still some segments that don’t successfully bring out the funny in everyday events and objects. Nations’ delivers his best work when tackling either emotionally heavy content or absurdly worthless objects (such as souvenirs), but anything in-between those two extremes is less consistent. Nonetheless, I would recommend this issue and series to anyone who likes confessional and anthology-style comic books.
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