Gustavo Borges (writer, artist), Cris Peter (colors)
In Petals, a friendly kit and his father struggle to make it through the winter until they befriend a mysterious bird wearing a magnificent hat. Sent out to gather firewood, the kit meets the bird, who provides an armful of branches and an escort home. There, the bird produces a beautiful five-petaled flower to soothe the elder fox’s ghastly cough. Told without a word of dialogue, Petals combines beautiful artwork and skillfully composed scenes into a powerful story.
Writer/artist Gustavo Borges and colorist Cris Peter tackle the challenges inherent in weaving a tale from nothing but a series of still images with aplomb in Boom! Studios’ Petals. Whimsical, heartwarming, and poignant, the comic reminded me of some of the best dialogue-free short films to come from Pixar, from its opening salvo, “Geri’s Game,” to its most recent offering, “Bao.” Like these shorts, Petals evokes a variety of emotions, at times whimsical and fun, at others gut wrenching and poignant.
Also, like many of its animated counterparts, Petals tells a story of sometimes serious themes without alienating its audience, either young or old. I think the lack of dialogue and textual narration actually helps achieve this by removing opportunities to break the reader’s immersion. Borges avoids leaving less experienced readers reaching for the dictionary or boring more experienced readers with simple construction by eliminating the text and allowing the visual storytelling to carry the day.
Borges and Peter accomplish this with exquisite expressiveness in each character’s faces and movements. In a single page, Bird goes from proudly showcasing their skills, to chagrin at accidentally pulling a picture of a racily-clad Daisy Duck from their magic hat instead of a wand. The next, Bird returns to pleasure at Kit’s fascination with the trick before moving right on to authoritative, pulling up to Fox and demanding with a flicking finger and a glowing wand tip to examine Fox thoroughly. Kit’s youth shines through in delight at Bird’s manifestation of music from that magic hat, caution in leaving Bird waiting at the front door until Fox grants permission to invite a stranger inside, adoration when Bird ruffles the fur beneath Kit’s warm cap.
Without text, it becomes easy to breeze through the panels that make up each page of Petals. But it would be a mistake to read too quickly. Not only will a hurried reader lose the opportunity to get lost in the contrast of icy colors in the snowy wood and warm hues within Fox and Kit’s cottage, but they risk missing nuances within the story: the source of the cold weather and snow, the broom hanging on the back of the cottage’s front door, the tea kettle atop the wood stove. Peter’s color choices make these details shine in addition to offering teasing hints at a storage area under the ladder to Kit’s loft bed and a fascinating look out at Bird from somewhere near Fox’s tonsils.
For this fan of silent storytelling, Petals strikes a satisfying emotional chord. Borges’ and Peter’s beautiful comic holds appeal for readers of all ages, and the lack of text makes it accessible to them all. So, if you’re looking for a touching read for the family, Petals would be an excellent addition to the list.