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‘Secrets of Camp Whatever Vol. 1 & 2’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Chris Grine
Published by Oni Press


Did you go to summer camp as a kid?

I never did.

I don’t know if my parents couldn’t afford it or what but the idea just never came up. Being mainly an indoor city kid, I was actually kind of glad of this. If, however, you did go to summer camp, you’ll probably enjoy the two new Secrets of Camp Whatever books that I just read even more than I did!

Secrets of Camp Whatever is the overarching title of the new Tween series from writer/artist Chris Grine—even though only the first volume takes place during summer camp. The second, The Doors to Nowhere, offers up a whole new adventure, the seeds of which the author cleverly planted throughout the first book!

What’s it all about? That’s easy. Imagine a much milder comics adaptation of Stranger Things (complete with bicycles and a young girl with powers and unusual hair), crossed with Harry Potter (an ancient evil tied to the protagonist’s family), and beautifully drawn in the style of Jeff Smith (Bone).

Now, remember, this is NOT Jeff Smith! It’s Chris Grine, but the Smith is strong in this one…and that’s not a bad thing.

Willow and her family have just moved back to Nowhere, a small town where her family had resided for hundreds of years. While their house is being renovated, Wil, who is deaf and wears hearing aids, is shipped off to Camp Whatever, where her father had gone as a youth.

Far from the shy, retiring type, she makes some enemies early, but also some friends. She’s more intrigued by the mysterious legends about the island where the camp is located than she is about swimming or crafts. She also quickly realizes that the new camp director is, too.

Throughout the stories, we meet magical creatures big and small, good and not so good, as first Willow and then her newfound posse come to have their entire perceptions of reality altered and Willow slowly comes to realize her purpose in life.

The action is exciting, the pacing quite good, and the story scary enough without jeopardizing what would be a PG rating if these were movies. Grine’s artwork, going back to his Chickenhare about 15 years back, has always been seemingly inspired by Jeff Smith’s Bone, but never more so than in these perfectly colored volumes. In no way is he ripping him off, though. Think Bill Sienkiewicz to Neal Adams or Paul Gulacy to Jim Steranko. Their influences were worn on their artistic sleeves and yet both transcended them in time. For now, Grine’s artwork fits this series like a glove.

As I’ve said before, don’t let the target audience hold you back. Just as we were reading books for older kids and adults when WE were kids, a lot of these tween graphic novels are just plain good reading for folks at ANY age.

Sure the plots are a tad derivative but Camp Whatever and The Doors to Nowhere are among the most enjoyable graphic novels I’ve read recently.

Booksteve recommends.



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