Petals hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Gustavo Borges
Colors: Cris Peter
Editor: Whitney Leopard
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Kaboom imprint
Price: $16.99 US/$20.99 CAN/12.99 UK
Poverty. Illness. Harsh weather. Isolation. These are all conditions that often bring out the worst in people, as fear and desperation can drive some to undertaken awful actions in the name survival. But there’s another path when faced with such hardships, and that’s the one down which writer/artist Gustavo Borges leads his readers in Petals. Published under Boom! Studios’ all-ages imprint, this American edition of a Brazilian comic will take you by surprise, but quietly. It’s an understated celebration of the human spirit, but more than that, it’s an exploration of the importance of community, of connection and of empathy.
As a young fox searches for firewood so as to keep his ailing father warm in their small house in the middle of a wintry wood, he encounters an unusual figure: a tall, lanky bird wearing a dark suit, cape and top hat. The bird befriends the child and accompanies him to his home. The fox family takes this out-of-place magician in, and the bird shares a secret with him: a special flower he carries with him, the petals of which hold medicinal properties.
Borges is clearly a fan of traditional animation, as his designs and bright-eyed characters evoke memories of childhood cartoons, but there are other influences at play as well, such as Euro-comics art and even American comic strips. There are hints of Peanuts and Pogo elements sewn into the fabric of these characters. Given the more cartoony looks of these anthropomorphic players, they’re thoroughly emotive, but Borges doesn’t exaggerate their expressiveness too much. The drama and pleasure of the story plays out perfectly on the characters’ faces, which is vital, given the silent nature of the book. The only words to be found here are bits of onomatopoeia — a few coughs here, the scratching of bits of firewood rubbing together there.
Brazilian-born colorist Cris Peter is no stranger to comics in the North American market, as she’s done work for Marvel and DC and earned an Eisner nomination for her work on Casanova. Her name seemed familiar, but it didn’t stick out to me — but it will from now on. Her colors bring incredible texture to the line art, and soft, pastel qualities of those tones not only convey the bitterly cold backdrop, but the quietly peaceful aspects of the setting and characters. The colors are understated throughout the book, which reflects the tender, understated nature of the story.
Though appropriate for all ages, Petals is appropriately timed story. Originally released in Brazil last year and now republished this year, the message at the heart of this book is one that resonates — or at least, it ought to resonate. Borges tells his readers that everyone, no matter how different they may be from one another and no matter how odd and unconventional they may seem, is stronger when they’re together, when they look out for each other. The trends of nationalism and populism that seem to be arising the world over run contrary to this sentiment. In Petals, there is only us, no us-versus-them. Borges’ characters certainly embrace a minimalist lifestyle here, likely due to circumstance rather than choice. But he shows that happiness doesn’t flow from a wealth of resources, but rather respect and consideration for others.
Now, Borges doesn’t suggest that such a community approach to caring and sharing solves all problems, but he does, through his plot and characters, argue that it makes for a more positive way forward, that ultimately, working together and sharing resources ensure sustainability and even offer potential prosperity. 9/10
Note: This book is slated for release Sept. 19.