Ross Campbellís Water Baby is a good illustration of the problem of DC aiming the Minx line of comics at teenage girls--that being the relative lack of female creators, at least in the books published so far. Is a grown man, Ross Campbell, the best choice to tell the story about the inner life of a young girl?
Of course, thatís not to say that the presence of a Y chromosome should prohibit a creator from writing female characters, but for a book about whatís going on in the head of a teenage girl, Campbellís portrayal seems a bit off.
Campbell is known for stories about outsiders, having previously done Wet Moon for Oni Press. He has a penchant for goth/punk girls, and that continues to come through here in the tale of Brody, a Florida surfer girl whose life is turned upside down when her leg is bitten off by a shark. We see the event occur in the first few pages of the book, and then the story jumps to a year later as she is continuing to try to live her life and deal with the daily struggles of being an amputee.
Her friend, Louisa, is her main support after having moved into Brodyís house to help out--and their life gets disrupted when Brodyís ex-boyfriend, Jake, shows up. Taking advantage of the generosity of Brodyís mom, he lazes around their house, mooches their food, and crashes on their couch. Brody eventually gets tired of him, and an incident of drunken projectile vomit spurs her to pack him up in her momís car and drive him home to Rochester, New York--dragging Louisa along for support.
That plotline seems like a good groundwork for an adventurous road trip, with Brody learning about herself and developing as a character along the way. However, Campbell doesnít really do anything with the concept. Instead, the book is just a string of incidents that donít form any sort of satisfying narrative or character arc. Brody seems to be in the same place at the end of her journey as at the beginning.
We do get a bit of an examination of her mental state through the nightmares and daydreams she keeps having about the shark that bit her continuing to hunt her and her friends on land. However, those passages seem to be more about Campbell coming up with creepy, monstrous imagery rather than any sort of character exploration.
While the story itself doesnít amount to much, reading it isnít a terrible experience. Brody makes for a refreshingly offbeat character of the kind you donít usually see in teen fiction. Sheís a non-girly, punk covered with provocative tattoos and prone to belligerence.
She shaves her head early in the book, probably in an attempt to keep up a non-mainstream identity after losing the ability to surf. She also swears a lot (thereís a surprising amount of profanity and sexual talk for a teensí book), and she enjoys being confrontational.
There are some hints that all this attitude is kind of a front, such as in scenes where she talks about how much she hates Jake while her inner-monologue narrative reveals otherwise. I would have preferred more of this sort of thing, but you take what you can get.
The other characters are interesting as well--including Louisa, who also has a kind of punk sensibility but isnít so forceful about it, and Jake, who has little on his mind other than girls, girls, girls. Thereís also Chrissie, the girl they pick up in their travels who seems cute and bubbly but might also contain a darker side. Again, more exploration of these characters and their relationships would have been welcomed.
And then thereís the artwork, which is generally quite good. Campbell has a good grasp of anatomy, and he draws some really expressive faces. Just watching the characters sit around and talk is pretty entertaining since Campbell does so well with his charactersí body language and ďacting.Ē
He also fills in the scenes with plenty of detail--from the folds and wrinkles in clothing to background stuff like the clutter that fills Brodyís house, the messiness of a truck stop restaurant, and the decorations of a motel room. Additionally, those aforementioned nightmares are pretty freaky with the shark (and sometimes Brody) taking on all sorts of monstrous forms and delivering some surprisingly gory bodily harm to those whom Brody cares about.
Campbellís art style has one or two drawbacks, though--the main one being the amped-up sexiness of the characters. Brody seems particularly busty for a thin girl (and the fat she sometimes complains about is not visible on her at all), and she and Louisa usually wear overly skimpy clothing. Sure, itís supposed to be summer, and girls do often dress provocatively in real life, but the art often seems to linger on their nubile bodies, which probably sends the wrong sort of message to the intended audience of young teenage girls.
Also, shouldnít Brody, who brags about her slovenly lifestyle and reticence toward bathing, have some hair on her legs or armpits? In fact, her severed leg ends in a smooth, rounded stump; donít amputees usually have some ugly scarring? Campbellís decision to draw her as sexy as possible seems to betray the more id-based motives for the choices he makes in the art.
And how old are these characters, anyway? They never talk about school (maybe because itís summer vacation), and they donít seem to have jobs. At one point, Jake refers to Brody and Louisa as high school girls, so maybe heís a couple years older and already out of school.
Brodyís parents only make short appearances, even though she lives in their house, which is just one example of the storyís weird lack of background that makes the characters seem kind of unmoored--as if they exist solely for the duration of this story. Good characters seem like they have a life that extends beyond the window in which you get to see them, and that just isnít the case here.
Overall, the book looks pretty nice, but doesnít really cohere into any sort of satisfying reading experience. Like much of the rest of the plot, the ending seems arbitrary, as if Campbell reached the end of his page count and just decided to stop. Other Minx books have had kind of poor, abrupt endings which set up second volumes (The Plain Janes is a notable offender), so maybe thatís what Campbell and DC have planned here. However, I for one am not really interested in following the further adventures of Brody.
If Campbell is able to make the character grow a bit, her story could be interesting. If this book is any indication, though, it will probably simply be more of the same purposeless roaming around with occasional pauses for bloody dreams about sharks. If so, count me out.
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