Once upon a time, way back in 1995, there was an odd little series called Private Beach: Fun and Perils in the Trudyverse. I remember being intrigued by the cover of - wouldn't you know it? - the third and last issue, which featured an attractive young woman wearing a yellow raincoat over a pseudo-Egyptian costume, striking a pseudo-Egyptian pose in front of a giant teddy-bear. The title was promising, if a little on the cute side, so I turned the page - and knew I had to buy this comic.
Beneath the title Dawn of the Age of the Value Menu were two horizontal panels. The first image of the story proper showed an exterior view of a long, low building, Slammy's Waffle Hut, and a cluster of speech balloons with the unlikely contents:
"Full-sized gingerbread aircraft carrier."This continued to tread the borders of cuteness, but was saved by the lack of a clever punchline, the anticlimax which reveals that Violet isn't quite one of the group, can't think of a better contribution than Disney's dancing mushrooms. And below this panel, and parallel to it, was the corresponding interior view, introducing (to the new reader, at least) Trudy Honeyvan and her circle of friends.
"Skeleton pot pie."
"No, Violet. That one doesn't count."
Five years later, creator David Hahn revisited the "private beach" of Trudy's unique approach to life. This was not a continuation of the original series, a resumption of an interrupted narration: instead it placed the same character in the same situation, and asked the same question: what happens next? Comics habitually deal with superheros, and are accustomed to the idea that each generation will reinvent these - like any mythic figure - in its own likeness and to suit its own needs: after Lee and Ditko's Spider-man comes the Spider-man drawn by John Romita Jr., and he in turn is followed by the "ultimate" Spider-man, the Spider-man of the movie... It's less common for a creator to perform a Dark Knight Returns-type transformation of their own work. But this is essentially what Hahn has done. The central characters remain the same, Trudy and Sharona still have a weakness for waffles:
The writing shows the same development. In the original series, Trudy was enlisted, by a mysterious voice which first visited her in childhood, to track down the "visa fetish" which would allow a stranded alien to return home. The story culminated in a scene in which the alien explains to her, against a full page of cosmic psychedelia, that she, like him comes from the 12th dimension:
A larger part of your being, your... consciousness, resides in the plane where my people exist. That's why you were chosen at birth to be our liaison.The current series begins with the equivalent explanation, told as a fable: one afternoon, God decided to line up the whole of humanity, past, present and future, in a single row, and told them to walk. Everyone was obliged to step forward together, except for the two people on the ends of the line, who could - whether they realised it or not - veer off at an angle from the rest of humanity.
One of these people at the end of the line was a Japanese peasant farmer who died of strep throat in 1681.
At the other end of the line was a young woman named Trudy Honeyvan.
Another plotline concerns the two mysterious men in black, who make Trudy a proposition: they are looking for "someone like you" to "lend to the ...ambience" of a nightclub called "Heaven's Rift". This theme is pursued at two levels. One, resolutely mundane, shows Trudy being teased by the twins Siobhan and Sharona - the job must surely involve porn films - but deciding to attend the interview anyway because it pays so much better than her present office job, where she spends her time bickering pointlessly with colleagues... The other sustains the oddness of the initial approach: why (and indeed how) have the Men in Black recruited a roomful of young women so very like Trudy?
The mere fact that the characters now have jobs is a progression from the original series: five years ago, Trudy had dropped out of college, and her sole means of support was the ridiculously large sum of money deposited in her bank account by the alien. David Hahn comments on the relationship between the original and the current series:
Nothing in the new series contradicts anything in the original, but it doesn't exactly pick up where the old one left off, either. They co-exist, peacefully...In fact, continuity is unobtrusively respected, which is not surprising in a story which has always shown a present rooted in the past; not only do Trudy's contacts with the unexplained go back to her childhood, her network of friends has been forming since her schooldays. It is probably overdoing the psycho-analysis of a fictional character to suggest that exposure to strangeness has given Trudy a yearning for the familiar, but she does explain in the first series that although her father's work caused her parents to move from "Duke City" to Knoxville, she missed her friends and returned to the university in her old home. Admittedly, this also has a function in the narrative, explaining how she has managed to drop out of college without parental intervention, and allowing the three days drive to visit and explain to them to form a closure to the original story. The importance of friends is a strong thread in both stories, and in the new series Trudy repeatedly encounters figures from the past, looking them up in her carefully preserved year book from Manzano High School. This doesn't mean that the author cannot have second thoughts; the characters are five years older, and much can change in that time. Sam's appearance has changed; at a pinch he could still be the same "cool dude", having lost the goatee and become a blond, but these changes are insignificant beside his loss of one foot. Now he occupies himself with spending the compensation on consumer goods (an imported gaming console, a freezer full of ice-creams) and oscillating between self-pity and attempts at self improvement. He maintains a student's disdain for "that whole 'cleaning thing'" - even his cockroaches have tapeworms.
This is gritty realism indeed: but more to the point, these begin to be real characters with real lives; a shift which only accentuates the interventions of the unreal or surreal into the narrative. The fifth issue of the current series of Private Beach is a new departure, with its focus on character rather than events. It is cleverly structured, starting with Sharona at the hospital where she works, going outside for a cigarette break and running into Sam, who has come to have his new prosthetic fitted; the camera then follows Sam to his home, where Junior is waiting for him, and so on, from encounter to encounter, until the last frame closes the loop. Such neatness can be irritating, but manages to be satisfying instead. It would be a fine point to jump on board.
So if you've read all of Love and Rockets, twice; if you're tired of waiting for Strangers in Paradise to quit wasting time with the mafia, and cut to the romance; if you're still grieving for the loss of Sleaze Castle... (what is it about male comics creators and women buddies, anyway? Aah, don't ask!) ...then what you need is Private Beach. Choose whether to start with the constantly increasing maturity and skill of the current series, or the acid-drop charm of the original story: both are available, both are fun, and if you enjoy one you will probably want to move on to the other!
Private Beach is written and drawn by David Hahn.