Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan’s Brain Camp

Brain CampI think the best description I’ve seen of Brain Camp, written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, is “creepy.”

Camp Fielding is a parent’s dream: a summer camp dedicated to taking your young loser and turning him or her into, in the words of the camp director, someone “ready for SATs and beyond.” Read “rocket scientists.” Jenna loves art and theater; her parents are thinking doctor/lawyer. Lucas relaxes by breaking into cars; his mother just wants some peace and quiet. Off they go to Camp Fielding, where things are — well, a little strange. It’s about the dead baby birds all over the place, and people horking up feathers, and the glassy-eyed look of their fellow campers. Of course, neither Jenna nor Lucas are stupid, and they’ve gotten an added boost from the “vaccination” they received — so they start digging.

Brain Camp takes a while to get going — it’s not until about halfway through that there’s any real tension in the story, and frankly, I was about to give up. The last half saves it. It has the makings of a good horror story, but doesn’t quite jell. That may be a function of Hicks’ drawing, which highlights the “creepy” quite well — although it’s by contrast rather than reinforcement — but doesn’t really exploit any of the inherent darkness in the script. It’s an abstract comic style that adds a certain surreal quality to the story line — which is already pretty surreal — but doesn’t reflect the essential awfulness of what’s going on.

Maybe I’m missing something by having been a small-town kid who never went to summer camp — both Kim and Klavan noted in an interview that there’s a strong autobiographical element in their script — but I found a certain distance in the telling here that kept me from getting all that engaged. I suspect teenagers are probably going to like this one a lot more than I did.

(First Second, 2010)

Robert

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there. You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.

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