Beach Girls is the first comic I’ve picked up from Box Brown’s Retrofit Comics, a small boutique line of individual comic books by a wide variety of alternative comic creators. I’ll admit that I felt a little drawn to the comic almost immediately off the bat thanks to its larger dimensions; running at 7 7/8"x10 1/2", this magazine-sized comic immediately brought to mind the indy comics of the ’80s and ’90s that I’d bought in great numbers. And now that I’ve read Beach Girls? I feel like that initial impression was not misplaced.
Brown’s story for Beach Girls is easy to follow; Pheobe and her two friends are at the beach on vacation, with Pheobe feeling out of place and inadequate next to her friends. At the same time, local surfer Hank is railing on the summer’s influx of "beach girls" even as he appears to be struggling to find his own place in the world. Needless to say, the two meet and things progress from that collision of worlds. What’s nice about Brown’s writing for Beach Girls is the overall feel and progression of the comic; it would be easy for this to turn into the ultimate romance cliche, but it’s much to Brown’s credit that the characters steer it into a different direction. This is much less about "will they get together?" but more along the lines of, "What will Pheobe learn from her experience at the beach?"
I don’t want this to sound like it’s some sort of after-school special, because it’s not. Instead Brown gives us a story where the emotional course mimics the overall pull of the ocean, dragging the characters in and out in a surface where they can fight it, let it drag them away, or learn to navigate its currents. That’s where Brown’s story for Beach Girls shines, because while the plotting itself is a little short when you look at it, it’s the mood and emotion that will stick with you for a while afterwards. Little moments pop up to subvert your immediate expectations here and there (when Pheobe asks Hank if they’re bound for something romantic, the response and reaction that follows is wonderful), and the end result is a joy.
Brown’s art here is great, too; he has a medium-weight, confident ink line that is smooth and sparse. Brown doesn’t waste any ink here and the end result is a simple, almost iconic look that both gives you enough detail to tell everyone apart and to set a mood, and leaves enough detail out so that you can also project your own additions (or people you know in real life) onto the finished page. Brown’s art hits all of the big moments well, and there’s something about the way that he puts the pages together that brings to mind the comics that Jeff Mason used to publish under his Alternative Comics banner. I love when he occasionally shifts the reader’s view, too; the over-the-stage shot of the musical performance, for example, does more to set the mood and the feel for the venue than a typical sea of heads ever could have. Add in the larger dimensions to the comic, and you end up with an attractive end result. My one complaint is that Beach Girls could have used an editor to eyeball the comic before publication. Punctuation is occasionally missing, and there are a couple of misspelled words here and there. (Because it’s only ever mentioned once, I still can’t decide if Pheobe’s name is a misspelling of Phoebe or not.)
James Kochalka contributes a 10-page back-up story to Beach Girls, titled "Dweeb." It’s one of his more aimless stories, mostly a conversation between two little fantasy creatures observing a passed out woman who eventually starts to wake up. If there’s anyone who does aimless well, though, it’s Kochalka. It’s silly and funny, and I feel like Kochalka doesn’t overstay his welcome. (An entire comic of "Dweeb" might have been a bit much.) Perhaps more importantly, it’s a good match for the rest of Beach Girls, with both of them drawing from a similar artistic viewpoint in how they approach the page. There’s no huge visual clash when you finish the main story and hit the back-up, and I feel like that’s exactly how this sort of arrangement should work.
Now that I’ve read Beach Girls, I’ll definitely have to keep my eyes open for more Retrofit Comics publications down the line. This was a fun charmer of a comic, and I appreciated the larger dimensions, paper stock, and overall format too. There would definitely be something slightly lost reading this as an electronic comic; the physical object here is part of the attraction. All in all, a fun little publication.
(Disclaimer: Years ago I regularly worked one day a month at Big Planet Comics.)