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Review: ‘Gumby: 50 Shades of Clay’

GumbyGumby: 50 Shades of Clay
Writers: Jeff Whitman, Eric Esquivel, Ray Fawkes, and others
Artists: Jolyon Yates, Kyle Baker, Veronica Fish and others
Papercutz; $8.99

Boomer era animated icon Gumby has returned to comics for the first time in a decade, and, as per his previous comics engagement, what the stop-motion clay hero loses in the more static medium, he makes up for with pure weirdness. The Paperctuz-produced collection, 50 Shades of Clay—see what I mean about weirdness?—is an anthology featuring nine short, all-ages stories. The famously malleable title character, with his penchant for traveling through and into books and weird locales, is a pretty perfect candidate for different creators with different takes and different styles, and Papercutz obliges with an admirable roster of contributors.

The majority of the comics are the work of writer Jeff Whitman, who scripts a third of them, and/or artist Jolyon Yates, who draws five of the stories. Whitman sends moon creatures from an old short after Gumby, sends the gang to Paris in search of their missing friend Goo (and in and out of plenty of allusions), and also sends Gumby and his grandmother to a hoaxed version of Hawaii, as part of The Blockheads’ elaborate, labor-intensive scheme to scam Gumby’s grandma out of some ten-dollar bills (the collection takes its name from the title of the trashy romance novel that Gumby’s grandma reads on the plane, if you’re wondering).

The more exciting stories are those from the cartoonists involved, as they tend to put the already flexible, amorphous character through various changes in style. These include a contribution from Kyle Baker, who has plenty of experience making comics about shape-changing protagonists with bumbling best friends from his Plastic Man series; a Veronica Fish and Andy Fish story, in which Gumby, Pokey, and Goo act as peace-makers between two suspicious tribes; and a Mike Kazaleh story that guest-stars a guy named Paul who seems an awful lot like a certain former Beatle.

Perhaps the strongest story that isn’t Baker’s—it’s hard to compete with Kyle Baker in virtually any category, and his artwork is so different from everything else around it that it stands out—is the one by writer Eric Esquivel, working with Yates. In “Green With Envy,” simple, sweet Gumby notices the way his friend Tara seems drawn to Grimey, a sort of punk rock version of Gumby, and so he himself becomes a badder dude…only to alienate his friends and family and discover that maybe Grimey’s life isn’t so great after all. (Best line? “Why are you alone, playing ‘tea time’ with a bunch of dolls made of garbage?!” If you ever find yourself playing “tea time” with a bunch of dolls made of garbage, then you know you’ve hit rock bottom.)

Like the best of Papercutz’s graphic novels, Gumby is an all-ages comic in the best—and literal!—sense of the word, appropriate for the youngest readers while remaining appealing to even the oldest and most cynical comics readers.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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