A whale of a time in this kids’ mini

Beach Balloon.

By Andrew Fulton.
Self-published, 2012, 24pp, $1 (digital), $5 (print)
http://smallercomics.limitedrun.com/products/503794-beach-balloon
http://grumblier.com/

BeachBalloonCoverAs an interesting change of pace for Andrew Fulton, this is an attempt to do a story fairly and squarely aimed at kids. Perhaps a little experimental for him to do so, but certainly successful. I think I’m correct in assuming that this is going to be a main concentration for Fulton this year, if the front page of the Grumblier.com site means anything.

There’s slightly more abstraction or stylising of some of the graphic elements here — a codifying of water, buildings, cars, etc., that although comfortably within Fulton’s natural style, is skewed in a particular direction for the task at hand: making a comic for younger readers. The main characters are a whale and a child, and the simplification (especially of the whale) are bang on for the whimsy of the tale being told. Then again, perhaps this is Fulton’s natural evolution?

The plot is straightforward and simply told, but deceptively so. The splitting of the locales at a certain point of the story, and a cut away as a reaction shot for the segue of same, are neatly and unobtrusively done, and add interest and spice to what might otherwise have been too linear a narrative.

The heartwarming story of friendship born from the desire to help a stranger is really great. The mismatched pair of leading characters are a great contrast to each other — different sizes, different shapes, different species. The gulf between them is bridged practically wordlessly but with no doubt whatsoever to the meaning in just about every action. The ludicrousness of what happens to the whale is all too charming and appealing – just right I would think for the target audience who would surely be at least as amused as I was.

Although the cover is a beautiful full colour illustration, the interiors are black and white with grey wash. The lack of colour is a small let down after viewing the vibrant cover, but only a small one. In fact, it could be argued that the employment throughout the story of the quite strong colour palette used on the cover could have been overpowering and detrimental to enjoying the story compared to how it is currently presented.

Fulton’s pairing of a wavy, fluidly inky line with his tendency for geometrically designed settings and characters offsets any issues there might have been with austerity due to the geometrical nature of the shapes. That and the always organic life lent overall by the watercolour washes.

It’s interesting that in this book there is a need to utilise worm’s eye view, bird’s eye view and foreshortening, as well as a three-quarter view from below. Just about everything of Fulton’s that I’ve seen so far has been framed like we are an audience watching a stage. It’s a stylistic approach that I have no issues with and it is part and parcel of the whole feeling and manner of Fulton’s work — part of the quietness and also decidedly wedded to his methods of page and panel layout. The difference here is the necessity to put the viewer into the character’s point of view rather than to just stage the action in front of the reader. It’s employed completely successfully, and only comes to my attention because of the fact I’ve reviewed so many of Fulton’s minis.

BeachBalloonSpreadThere’s an interesting variety of page and panel layouts, ranging from double page spreads that are in no way indulgent but wholly story driven, through to full page splashes and multi-panel pages. These all help the pacing and variety, and all the panels are simply denoted with either a single hand-drawn line or just the space between objects on the page. Throw in a few inset panels for interest, though usually also for depicting simultaneous or near-simultaneous events, and the storytelling easily keeps your attention while doing its primary job of pacing and flow. The otherwise borderless pages and panels are light, airy, and inviting.

There’s a marvellous two pages at the climax of the book that demonstrate Fulton’s deft ability to turn the story around from a explosive crescendo to a charming denouement.

Another worthy addition to Fulton’s quickly growing library that’s making me keen to see what he has in store for 2013.

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