Erin Nations’ anthology series titled Gumballs continues its poignant autobiographical exploration of life in this third issue that is well worth picking up. This issue covers explicitly trans topics such as the struggle of riding public transpiration, experiencing both sides of male privilege, and some the changes one can undergo when on hormone therapy. It also covers more universal topics such as the feeling of not belonging, being restricted by overly strict gender roles, and attempting to make friends. All in all, this is a deeply honest issue that is smart, funny, and sweet.
One of the things that stands out most to me about this series is the organization. Each issue contains various types of features including short comics, illustrations, and even personal ads. The table of contents is color coded with each color of gumball representing a specific type of feature. What is so genius about this is the fact that it highlights the way that the trans issues are just another type of issue among the many that are explored. This is a refreshing take that does not diminish or take away from any of the issues therein because they are all important and formative to who Nations is. This is reinforced by the pretend mail-in advertisement that makes up the back cover of the book. I am a sucker for this type of thing and it immediately made me want to flip back through the issue and find the objects that were chosen in each of the features that they represent.
One of the features that most stuck out to me is titled “Packing.” This very neatly and concisely takes one issue related to being a trans man and uses it to explore a wide range of issues he dealt with through a long period of his life. It begins with him experimenting with the placement of a sock down his pants at a much younger stage of his life. He later buys a phallus shaped packer and this feature covers the when, how, and why he sometimes wears it. This covers so many topics including everything between dysphoria and the simple physical discomfort when it snags a leg hair. More than anything, it is a story about the search for self-acceptance, whatever that might look like. It is not just the story that is well done here though as the illustrations show very clearly that the person with the long hair looking in the mirror with a sock down his pants is the same person who is later just one of the guys. This is most clearly done with his hands. Before we even see him with the long hair and the underwear drawer still containing bits of lace and little hearts we recognize that these are the same hands we have seen in every other depiction of him. This is also a section that includes an informative tidbit as Nations takes the time to explain what exactly a packer is for those who might not know.
Gumballs continues to be an important and needed addition to the comic world and the world at large. This issue is a shining example of it. While the primary audience is the trans community, there is still a lot to enjoy for those who are fans of comic autobiography, are twin or a triplet, are a timid skater or any other category of human. Nations even works in an obligatory Voodoo Doughnut reference! Five Stars!
Written by Erin Nations
Art by Erin Nations