Many years ago, I was looking for a new comic to try and had read a good review or two of Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. I asked some friends whether they'd ever read it. I'll never forget what my pal, the artist Patrick Dean, said about it. He called it "Hopey & Maggie fanfic." A few weeks later, the girl I'd end up marrying let me borrow some of her run and I gave it a try anyway. Patrick, as is almost always the case, was right.
I was reminded of that when I reread the first five issues of David Hahn's Private Beach. This was a comic that I enjoyed when it was released, but I never came back to it. Bumping into a couple of Hahn's more recent efforts like Suicide Girls recently reminded me of these and so I retrieved them from storage to give 'em another try. Well, as Hopey & Maggie fanfic goes, it's not at all bad. It's certainly well drawn.
The format is slice-of-oddball-life stories centered around Trudy, a brunette in her mid-to-late twenties whose community has more than enough weird coincidences, and distantly-glimpsed UFOs, than many other communities. There's nothing thunderously weird here; it evokes David Lynch without the violence or sex, just the feeling that something unusual is around the corner. There are roaches, and short-term memory loss, and peculiar nightclubs, but nothing really tawdry.
It's interesting to see just how much Hahn has improved over the years. The artwork here is pretty good, but stiff. Not a patch on how I remembered it, nor on how vibrant his current The All-Nighter looks, it's still very interesting to see how his work has developed. I appreciate how he seemed willing to draw everything, without many shortcuts, early on, even if he occasionally found cheats to get around skylines or bus terminals. Trudy, Sharona and the rest of the cast communicate so much more in facial expressions than they do body language. It's really a more interesting comic to follow visually than verbally, if that makes sense.
In the end, it does suffer from the giant impact that Jaime Hernandez's work has over everybody that has followed him. There's a letters page in the second issue; two of the first three letters reference Hernandez. There really is a lot of the same visual language, like quiet panels and long, empty streets of small towns, plus engaging, female leads who feel directionless and longing. When you add in the flying saucers that seem to hover behind the buildings of Private Beach and recall the superheroes always fighting battles far away from Oxnard in the Locas stories, it really does feel too familiar. It's a pretty good comic, but not one that I can recommend with any great enthusiasm.