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Graphic Novel Review: Water Baby by Ross Campbell

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Water Baby doesn’t dive deep enough.

You don’t have to look close to tell that it was more than just a flesh wound. If I had looked at the back cover of Water Baby I might have not been as shocked at the main character’s amputation at the mercy of a shark. I guess that the cover is designed in such a way to mislead readers or keep some of them in the dark as to what happens to our female protagonist, Brody; but when she shares a name with a character from Jaws, you have to expect something shark related.

Brody is a surfer living in Florida. She decides to take a quick ride on her surfboard, and, within seconds, a shark attacks and her life is changed forever. When Brody awakes in the hospital, her conversation with best friend Louisa sets the tone for the whole story. You would think that after being a snack for a shark, Brody would be incredibly traumatized and out of it. Brody seems to not be as affected by her injury as you would expect, but she does suffer from bad dreams of sharks throughout. Also, to go with her lack of a limb, Brody also rocks a baldie instead of her dyed hair. Otherwise, from scene to scene, it is life as usual for this surfer girl. There isn’t whining from Brody. She’s not crying, nor is there a time where we see her feeling sorry for herself. It’s as if she accepts her amputation as an expected consequence.

After Brody’s shark attack, we learn about the relationship between Brody and her best buddy, Louisa. Lou and Brody hit the beach, of course, talk about guys, and sometimes talk about girls. There’s an ambiguity when it comes to who Brody likes. She’s into guys; she’s into girls, whatever. Louisa, I figure, is more of a lesbian than a hetero girl, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s dated a man in her lifetime. Writer and artist Ross Campbell does well in capturing the free spirited casualness of these sexually active young people who aren’t afraid to go where the wind takes them.

Brody might be young and free, but she draws a line in the sand, and Jake stands at the other side of that line. Jake is a boy she’s romantically on again, off again with. At this point, she’s not Jake’s biggest fan, but she still wonders if he‘s worth being with again. Jake is the impetus for most of the trouble Brody and all get into. He’s the weasel character, the guy who’s not heartless, but he’s not harmless. Jake goes where the wind takes him; and, for whatever reason, Brody and Lou have not gotten rid of him until this point. The only positive thing to say about Jake is that he’s not shy when it comes to women. That’s when Chrissie comes in. Unlike Lou and Brody, Chrissie isn’t nearly as curvy, and she’s a total wildcard. Whether she’s a new addition to the group or if she’s a powder keg waiting to blow is a question answered at Water Baby’s conclusion.

Water Baby confuses me. I wanted more to happen here, but it feels like Ross Campbell has told his story, and it’s done. Water Baby is not particularly deep, but there are moments where it could be saying more, where it could venture down certain avenues that seem interesting. What is really up with Louisa and Brody’s relationship? How gay is Brody? Was she just experimenting? Would Brody ever be with Jake again? Would Lou ever be with him? I enjoy the art, and I enjoy seeing characters who aren’t typical. Seeing a surfing tomboy who likes to burp in people’s faces isn’t new, but seeing a surfing tomboy with a missing leg who is neither Caucasian nor male is a good change of pace.

This is the second title under DC Comics’ Minx imprint I have read, the other title being Plain Janes. Water Baby is for a more mature audience, but the Plain Janes felt like a more complete story than Baby. Water Baby is a day in the life of a set of people, whereas Janes gave me the impression that its plot was put into greater consideration. Not to say that Baby’s plot is weak, but it demands its audience to read between the lines more often. Water Baby leaves me a bit empty, even after reading it a few times. The story does not need to continue beyond this book, but I enjoy the characters so much that I have questions that linger in my mind. Sometimes things are better left unsaid for the reader to figure out, but with Water Baby it might be fun if Ross Campbell takes another dip with these characters he‘s established.

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