Review: ‘Gillbert Vol. 1: The Little Merman’
Gillbert Vol. 1: The Little Merman
Writer/artist: Art Baltazar
The star of cartoonist Art Baltazar’s new original graphic novel for kids is referred to as a merman, although he more closely resembles an anthropomorphic iguana. His name is Gillbert. Because he lives under the sea and has gills, you see. Midway through the first chapter, he befriends a mermaid, who has the traditional layout of a humanoid head and torso with a fish tail. Her name is Anne Phibian.
That should give one an idea of the level of sophistication in Baltazar’s Gillbert, as well as the work’s sense of humor and sense of silliness. Of course, if one is already familiar with the prolific cartoonist and illustrator’s work from his many, many other projects, then one probably knows exactly what to expect from this.
There are basically two types of Baltazar comics, those that take established characters or franchises and render them cuter, funnier, and more kid-friendly, like Tiny Titans, Superman Family Adventures, Super Powers, Itty Bitty Hellboy, and so on, and then his original work, like Patrick The Wolf Boy, Aw Yeah Comics, and Adventure Bug.Gillbert falls into the latter category, but nearly every aspect of it—the character designs, the line-work, the lettering, the coloring, the pacing, the shaggy plotting—is familiar from pretty much all of the above.
Gillbert is the son of Nauticus and Niadora, the oval-shaped king and queen of the undersea kingdom of Alanticus. One day Gillbert finds a message in a bottle, but he’s unable to read the surface-world writing on it. Before he can get to translating it, he and his sea turtle friend Sherbert are distracted by the arrival of Anne Phibian. (If you’re wondering why Baltazar didn’t name the turtle character Shelldon, it may be because Gillbert’s friends’ names apparently all end with -bert; he’s also friends with a starfish named Albert.)
Anne takes them to a lower level of the bottom of the sea, where they party in an abandoned submarine and Gillbert makes lots of new friends who are eager to make his acquaintance. Then she takes them to a lower level still, where they find a space ship housing aliens who have been there a long time.
Meanwhile, Gillbert’s parents find a mysterious meteorite that isn’t really a meteorite, and a swarm of what look like one-eyed, three-legged pieces of burning charcoal make their way towards earth with seemingly malevolent intent. All of these things are connected. In fact, they are so connected that all conflicts are seemingly resolved completely and peacefully by the end.
As there is a number one in the title and on the spine, this is apparently the first installment of an ongoing concern. That might explain why so much time and space is devoted to Gillbert being introduced to many sea creatures, most of whom who barely serve any function in the story before filling up crowd scenes. Presumably, we will see most of these characters in future volumes.
Now because the plot is so tidily resolved here, there doesn’t really seem to be anything that needs to be picked up on in a second volume, but because of the nature of Baltazar’s plotting, which can sometimes read a bit like a dream and a bit like a story that a little kid might tell an adult, making it up as they go along, I suppose practically anything can happen in a future volume.
One can only expect that most of it will probably occur in or around water. And that it will bear all of Baltazar’s familiar visual signatures. And that it will be cute, funny, and kid-friendly. Oh, and rather silly.
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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