Private Beach #1, February 2001, Slave Labor Graphics Publishing
by David Hahn
If you haven’t heard, it’s raining in California. Of course, I know this because I stepped outside this weekend, but even if I stayed indoors and ignored the sounds of raindrops against my window, I couldn’t avoid both the television and radio reports about Mother Nature’s “one, two, three punch” against the Golden State. To hear these melodramatic meteorologists report it, you’d think these three storm fronts are just one shy of the apocalypse’s four horsemen. I like the rainy respite, but despite the precipitation, my inner Californian couldn’t help but embrace a trip to the beach . . . even if it’s only a comic book coast. Thankfully, David Hahn’s Private Beach is the perfect proverbial getaway for a rainy day.
According to Hahn’s back cover essay, Private Beach #1 isn’t the first appearance of beachcombers Trudy Honeyvan and Sharona Cupkey, but this five-years-later relaunch is an entity all its own, with an introduction so unique I can’t help but revel in its cleverness. Consider this narration from the first page, which is so compelling I don’t mind transcribing it all:
“One afternoon, God decided to take every human soul that ever existed, or ever will exist, and line us up in a specific order known only to Him. There we stood, in a single row, shoulder to shoulder, all facing front. God then told us to walk, but because we were all standing side by side, we had no choice but to all walk forward in the same direction. However, out of all of humanity, there were two people who didn’t have to walk in a straight line with the rest of us; the two people on either end of the line. Those two individuals had a bit more leeway because they only had people on one side of them. The other side was all empty space. Whether it occurred to them or not, they didn’t have to march in a straight line with the rest of us. If they wished, they could veer off at angle. Away from the rest of us. Independent of the rest of us. By marching at right angles from the main line, those two people would see reality from a much different perspective than the rest of mankind. One of these people at the end of the line was a Japanese peasant who died of strep throat in 1681. At the other end of the line was young woman named Trudy Honeyvan.”
Isn’t that great, if a bit ethereal? Fortunately, what follows is a much more grounded story, as Trudy spots an UFO, hangs out with her friends at the beach, and becomes the sole suspicious observer of a few men in black, who, based on the next issue teaser, play a significant role later in Trudy’s tale. To describe Trudy and Sharona’s day is to liken their comic shop hopping and pop culture ridden dialogue to the guys from Kevin Smith’s Mallrats; other than the unfortunate fate of an once oil-soaked seal, nothing really seems to happen in this introductory issue, yet by its quirky conclusion the reader has a strong grasp of the gals’ personalities and predicaments, and in spite of himself wants to see what the next chapter brings for them.
(Though I made a similar critique of Teen Titans: Year One #1, those characters are introduced with completely no distinctive traits whatsoever. Awkward sidekicks, all four of 'em. Hahn's characters have some substance . . .)
It doesn’t hurt that Hahn’s heroines are impossibly cute, either. His art style is crisp, expressive, and thorough; Trudy and Sharona spend a lot of time judging the folks around them, as I presume many young women do, and Hahn captures the oddities of their world with perceptive social significance and accuracy. The underlying threads of the supernatural only increase this visual intrigue, what with the UFO sightings and all. The two back-up strips are also insightful, and I wonder perhaps a bit autobiographical, as well, in their depiction of adolescent curiosity and commentary. Actually, in some respects these little back-ups steal the show, but I won’t spoil them with a synopsis in the hopes that you’ll actually seek them out. It’s a private beach you definitely want to discover firsthand.
Honestly, independent comic books like this usually don’t appeal to me. I often dismiss such characters’ pseudo-sophisticated dialogue as a feeble attempt to connect to an expectedly geeky audience and to establish a commitment to the title out of pop cultural obligation. However, regarding Private Beach #1, its subtexts established a stronger foundation for me, and Hahn’s essay revealed a real compassion for his characters’ archetypes. Perhaps I’ve been wrong about this indie genre. Like the rain, Private Beach #1 has made some strides in clearing the air -- at least for this geeky audience of one.