Top Shelf Productions’ anthology series Gumballs has impressed thus far with a unique aesthetic and poignant anecdotes. In issue #3, creator Erin Nations includes short pieces about his experiences with transitioning, childhood as a triplet, retail work, skateboarding, and more. There are also comics featuring recurring character Tobias as well as some new characters. Anthologies tend to be hit-or-miss in terms of quality, but the last issue was great. Does Nations continue to deliver strong work this time around?
Many of this issue’s best segments are those that pertain to Nations’ experiences with gender dysphoria, transitioning, and transphobia. Some strips are scary (such as when he gets accosted with threats of violence while riding public transit) and others shine light on often un-talked about aspects of life as a transgender man. Besides just struggles with “passing” or not “passing,” Nations analyzes the ways in which he has been treated differently dependent on whether those around him thought he was a man or a woman. This analysis is particularly engrossing in the issue’s retail-focused comics, where Nations recounts how much more frequently he got disrespected when customers thought he was a woman. This issue also has moments of hope and relief, and they are cathartic to read between the issue’s sadder moments.
Gumballs is also enjoyable when it tackles less heavy subject matter. Specific moments and concerns like Nations’ interest in skateboarding help to flesh out Nations’ persona. I also love the comics about various asshole customers Nations has encountered. The artwork continues to be charming as well, with a bright, geometric aesthetic. It matches the issue’s more lighthearted portions well, and also helps prevent the sadder moments from becoming too emotionally draining to read. There are some nice visual nature details throughout the issue as well. It’s also worth noting that some of the strips starring characters other than Nations’ persona are well-done. The Tobias strips in particular are poignant and touchingly depict societal loneliness and difficulty making friends.
As good as much of this issue is, it has some less riveting moments. The classified ads, which essentially consist of a character design and short vignette from said character’s point of view, are largely forgettable. The blocks of text are so long and don’t contain paragraph breaks, so they’re a bit of chore to physically read, and their contents aren’t humorous enough to feel worth the effort. The comics focused on Nations’ time growing up as a triplet are also among the issue’s less enjoyable; they just aren’t as humorous or emotionally powerful as the rest of the issue.
Overall, Gumballs #3 is a good issue. The artwork charms throughout, and the writing is frequently poignant. Nations’ coverage of personal moments is consistently moving, and a few of the sillier comics entertain too. With that said, there are still some forgettable segments, such as the classified ads and stories about being a triplet. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this issue and look forward to reading the next one.