Water Baby original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Ross Campbell
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN
The second wave of books from DC’s Minx line of graphic novels is proving to be an impressive one. While the novelty of the original wave of books aimed at female readers was enough to garner my attention, the strength and originality of the storytelling in such titles as Burnout, The New York Four and Water Baby are showing that the line has the potential to be sustainable and successful, at least from a creative standpoint. Ross Campbell’s contribution to the imprint is unlike any of the other books that have preceded it. There’s an edgier quality at play that allows the graphic novel and its heroine to stand apart. It’s not as easy to relate to Brody, Water Baby‘s protagonist, but Campbell’s writing and expressive artwork offer up a compelling character study. There are no clear answers or morals at play in this book, and the ending is disappointingly anticlimactic. But the characters and carefree spirit that dominates the book are so well crafted and conveyed that they help Water Baby to shine as one of the best graphic novels of the year so far.
A year after losing her leg to a shark, one-time Florida surfer girl Brody continues to struggle with her prosthetic, crutches and physiotherapy appointments. And if life wasn’t stressful enough now, her ex-boyfriend Jake blows back into town, mooching food and couch-space. When a night of debauchery makes for a disgusting display in her living room, Brody is so determined to get rid of him that the teenager takes her mom’s car to drive him all the way to his home in upstate New York.
Campbell’s organic style is one of the book’s greatest strengths. When the realism of the storytelling blurs to allow the surreal shark elements to creep in, it’s visually mesmerizing. The unreal emergence of the monstrous nightmares and visions seem to progress naturally rather than violently. I also appreciate that Campbell delivers a variety in terms of character design. The three teenage girls with pivotal roles in the story are radically different in shape and appearance. While Brody is an ideal of physical fitness, Louisa’s more voluptuous form is in keeping with her maternal role in Brody’s life. Chrissie is a wisp of a thing, a temperamental child playing at adult sexuality and freedom. Oddly enough, while Jake plays just as important a role in the story, he’s the least defined in terms of appearance. The depictions of the girls are much crisper. Given the emphasis on the girls’ stories, I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence.
I find it interesting that not every dream about being further consumed by sharks serves as a shock to Brody’s system. Her retreats into baths to seemingly commune with the ocean and the creature that marred her body seem to be soothing at times to her. Is she just trying to get back to the ocean in some small way that won’t trigger her fears? Or does the shark’s consumption of her body (and her friend) symbolize something else? I suspect it’s the latter. I’d like to think that the shark represents her transition from the carefree life of a child to the demands of adulthood. I wonder if it’s responsibility and purpose that Brody fears as opposed to the insatiable hunger of the shark that claimed her leg.
Though she spends much less time in the spotlight, I found Louisa to be almost as fascinating a character as the one-legged Brody. She’s clearly struggling between her need to be helpful to others (and her need to be accepted) and her own desires and personal needs. She’s in a transition as well, slowly but surely carving out an identity for herself beyond a supporting role for others. She seems to achieve it when he turns down the manipulative Chrissie late in the book.
The one aspect of the book that didn’t work for me was the ending. The final scene is definitely more of a whimper than a bang, and I was even left with the feeling that the story was unfinished. That may very well be the case, as we’ve seen that sequels have been planned for other Minx books, such as The P.L.A.I.N. Janes and Clubbing. But this volume of Water Baby lacks a conclusion. There’s no closure, but there’s no real cliffhanger either. It stops rather than ends.
Nevertheless, the characters, art and extreme catalyst for the plot all make for a fascinating read. Despite her extreme personality and circumstances, Brody’s youthful flaws are elements that the reader can no doubt recognize in himself or herself, or at least in one’s past. Campbell balances sympathy for the character with the reader’s disdain for her self-centered attitude. Brody may be the heroine of the story, but she’s also the villain. 9/10