Review by Ian Keogh
Petals is an expressively drawn wordless story by Gustavo Borges, a sentimental tale of friendship and kindness, ostensibly aimed at children. However, the shockingly unsentimental ending is pretty well guaranteed to cause tears and upset for younger children. It’s a strange choice to have made.
A young fox is gathering twigs for the fire in winter when approached by a tall bird who doffs his hat, from which a number of twigs topple out. The generous gesture is enough for the fox to let the bird accompany him home, where we’re introduced to the fox’s ailing father, who coughs a lot. In a series of delightful pages the bird reveals himself as a stage magician, and after entertaining both father and son supplies a flower, the petals from which generate the title. When steeped in boiling water, these petals have healing properties.
Borges is a refined artist who characterises the cast beautifully, so they live on the page with senses of movement and wonder captured elegantly. He uses very few backgrounds for the internal scenes once the fox’s home has been introduced, but the job is done with that and the cast can survive without them. The external scenes owe a lot to the colouring of Kris Peter, who keeps the tones muted, and the snow white for contrast externally.
The ending is hinted at from the opening pages, but it’s difficult to comprehend why Borges would choose to upset and alienate a young audience with it when so many other directions could have been chosen. A final panel nod to the cycle of life will hardly pacify tearful faces, and it’s surely a decision affecting sales. A parent picking Petals up will surely be charmed by the art as intended, but knowing the consequences should they give or read the book to a child, they’ll place it back on the shelf. Utterly, utterly, misguided.