12-year-old Gumball, his brother Darwin, his sister Anais, and their parents all live and work in the fictional town of Elmore. Elmore is a very strange place to live in, partly because even though it looks like any town in middle class America, it’s populated by a wide variety of anthropomorphic objects and creatures, and situations often spin out of control in a physics-defying, Looney-Tunes-like way.
These two graphic novels are collections of episodic events in Gumball’s life. In Volume 1, Gumball wrestles with situations like wanting to be viewed as “cool” at school, a new fascination with karate, an epic game of tag gone wrong, a city-wide blackout, and more. In Volume 2, he decides to participate in a Battle of the Bands, tries on a suit which changes his personality, realizes that favors need to be repaid, and so on. Darwin, his younger brother, is usually Gumball’s sidekick in these adventures, with his sister, parents, classmates, and teachers playing supporting roles.
In the stories and character interactions, extreme hyperbole for comic effect plus a healthy dose of random ridiculousness is the norm. For example, in Volume 2, Chapter Two, “The Suit,” Gumball tries on one of his dad’s business suits in an effort to look “successful.” He uses some old sandwiches on the closet floor to fill out the shoulders making the suit fit him perfectly. (Sample dialogue: “So are we just going to gloss over the pile of sandwiches Dad has left in the closet?” “Yes!”) The suit’s effect on Gumball’s self-image prompts him to act more and more like a caricature of a business tycoon, when finally the last scene takes place with Gumball sitting behind an enormous desk in his bedroom, bullying his father (who has taken the role of the harried secretary) and screaming into the phone about “buying” and “selling.” Darwin eventually breaks the power of the suit by reminding Gumball he had made a deal to let Darwin try on the suit; the power of “business integrity” creates a small explosion, tearing holes in the suit and letting Gumball go back to normal.
The pacing of each chapter is very quick, and the jokes and action come hard & fast, creating an almost manic tone. The episodic nature of the chapters also contributes to this effect, and works well for reluctant readers. It’s easy to dip in and out of the books, and there are very few demands on the reader other than the willingness to completely suspend disbelief and just enjoy the nonsense.
The artwork matches the bizarre nature of the stories and dialogue. Gumball himself is a blue cat, his brother Darwin is an orange fish with arms and legs, his sister is a pink bunny, his mom is a blue cat, and his dad is a pink bunny. Gumball’s classmates are a banana named Joe (picture a banana with a face, arms, and legs drawn on, MS Paint-style), a T-Rex named Tina, a ghost named Carrie, and a totally unrecognizable orange-ish blob called Tobias. Miss Simian, an ape of some kind, is a mean teacher, and Mr. Small, a cloud-like human-shaped being, is a hippie teacher. Backgrounds are all drawn realistically and look downright plain and boring, even before you compare them to the characters. Panels are all small to medium-sized, often overlapping, and with no large spreads, contributing to the manic pacing and tone.
Fans aged 8 and older of the Cartoon Network show of the same name will undoubtedly love this graphic novel series. The humor, pacing, and artwork are all extremely similar to the show (though small short sections created by other contributing artists definitely differ in artistic style from the main chapters). You don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy these books; fans of Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn should also like The Amazing World of Gumball for the wry observations about everyday life and the humor.
The Amazing World of Gumball, Vols 1&2
by Frank Gibson, Ben Bocquelet, Paulina Ganucheau
Art by Tyson Hesse
vol 1 ISBN: 978-1608864881
vol 2 ISBN: 9781608867936
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12