Comic book artist Jim Campbell, AKA “Angry Jim” manages a surreal and yet deeply personal charm the first issue of his “At The Shore” comic series. Beginning in a (presumably) late 90’s era art school, the comic follows the antics of the reluctant Gabi and her two friends Bernard and Dean. Immediately, the story establishes the status quo by having the three meet up at the art school cafeteria, where Bernard manages to revolt Dean with his disturbing reverence for macaroni. In turn, Gabi expresses her contempt for the food too by comparing it unfavorably to seaweed, which she despises. This leads to a bizarre origin story for Gabi’s hatred for seaweed, featuring her stereotypically nautical parents, one of whom wears a scuba suit coming home from work and the other who dresses in a Popeye-esque fashion and is seen watching “Gilligan’s Island”.
The story is interrupted by the arrival of Astrid, who seems absolutely flawless to the trio. She is kind, optimistic, and ridiculously knowledgeable. Oh, and she’s wicked hot as well. Literally, she debuts immersed in a golden light and informs the “fellers” that she has made them both mixtapes. Naturally, while Astrid’s seeming perfection appeals immensely to Dean and Bernard, Gabi is disgusted every time she is present. From here, the title becomes apparent as Astrid and the boys go down “to the lovely shore”, with Gabi being forced to tag along and then forcibly dragged out of the car by Bernard. The dynamics of the four’s relationship are set up nicely, with Dean being the most level headed , Bernard being obsessive in everything he does, Astrid being the kind optimist, and Gabi being the quiet and frustrated isolationist. As the four find they are trapped at the shore due to some less than ideal parking arrangements, the story’s focus finally manages to come back to Gabi’s bizarre background, as we gain insight on the reason why her father wears a scuba suit.
Admittedly, all of this happens a bit quickly and as such, the characters aren’t given much time to develop from their fast introduction. The beauty of comics, though, is that there is plenty of time for that in future issues and as such, the content as a whole doesn’t suffer too much.
At The Shore 1 is a delightfully bizarre book and an excellent introduction into Jim Campbell’s series.The story, while not exactly formulaic or traditional, still manages a nice, fluid narrative and the artwork is superb. The cover immediately draws thoughts of other stand-out works such as Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World” and the artwork is a strange mix between Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics and the old-school “Archie” comics. Strange, yet entirely fitting. The characters all hint at something deeper and more complex than the one-dimensional personalities that Gabi perceives of them, and each of them (even Astrid) feels familiar to someone we all knew in youth. Honestly, this story could have very well been written about my own circle of friends (and enemies) in high school or college.