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Review: ‘Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point’

Surfside Girls Cover

Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point
Writer/artist: Kim Dwinell
Top Shelf Productions; $19.99

Former real-life surfside girl turned animator Kim Dwinell makes her graphic novel debut with a pretty powerful argument for the old saw that you should write (and, here, draw) what you know.

Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point is a kids’ novel in comics form, and it head-fakes as a maybe typical coming-of-age story, as best friends Samantha and Jade begin the summer of their twelfth year with a fight. Jade, having noticed something special about boys before Sam, has started acting weird around them.

Sam will get it herself when she meets a special boy who makes her giggle, but her special boy is very special: He’s long dead. He’s the ghost of a pirate whose ship wrecked on the rocks near Danger Point, the focal point of all of the rather considerable weirdness going on in the girls’ small, seaside town of Surfside. And that’s when it becomes apparent this isn’t a typical coming-of-age story, but a celebration of childhood and the possibilities for adventure it presents.

Surfside-Girls-detail copy

One day on the ocean, Sam notices a strange light underwater. She dives from her surf board to go investigate and ends up finding a mysterious hidden cave that leads up to Danger Point, a beautiful walled-off garden of a place filled with the ghosts of local people (and at least one rabbit) from decades and even centuries past. She has been appointed their agent and the guardian of Danger Point, which is under threat of redevelopment via an extremely shady land deal, a task complicated by the fact that she is the only one who can see or hear the spirits.

In another sort of narrative, that would drive another wedge between Sam and Jade, and make even her very supportive and understanding family reluctant to ally themselves with her in such a crazy-sounding cause, but Dwinell isn’t telling that kind of story. Instead, Jade is such a good friend, she commits herself to helping Sam in her quest, even though there’s zero evidence that Sam isn’t just making it up or having some sort of mental breakdown. (Later, of course, Jade’s faith in her friend is rewarded, and she becomes a co-guardian of sorts.)

Despite the ghosts and criminal activity, Dwinwell’s story is a very gentle one, with no sharp edges or troubling questions. There’s also a child-like simplicity to her artwork, which, at the design level and when any single panel is taken out of context, looks like the work of a very accomplished but also still very young artist, like something Sam or Jade might have drawn themselves in their notebooks. But in context, Dwinwell’s background in animation is apparent in the way the characters move through the implied time and space of the layouts. That coupled with the soft, summery coloring of the art makes for a case where style could scarcely serve story better.

With an unusual but tightly defined setting and a pair of leads with interesting hobbies to make them stand out from many kid heroes, Surfside Girls pulls off the rare feat of feeling classic while being contemporary. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find it turning out to be the first volume of a long and healthy series.

(Check out our preview for a closer look at Surfside Girls.)

Surfside-Girls-interior-for-reviewers-22

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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