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Going Home Again: David Hahn’s Private Beach Highlights Comics’ Strength at Returning to Old Territory

Dipping a toe into the large and varied world of indie and mature reader fare in 2002 might have resulted in the chance encounter with a rare gem of a mini-series called “Private Beach: Fun and Perils in the Trudyverse”. This title was born at a crossroad between the ’90s slacker flick “Reality Bites”, and an episode of “Friends”if written by surrealist director David Lynch.

“Private Beach” ultimately concerned with three often inappropriate twenty-something meanderers. Two of the characters are sisters. Together with their male accomplice, the characters go through life but drift into fantasy. Mr Hahn has adroitly coordinated the story into chapters which stand-alone as “slice of life” capers, but have an overarching connection. More fundamentally, it is the story of a young woman in that grey area between being out of high school, but not yet being completely an adult. But does she also suffer from mental delusions? Or are these twists of fantasy real? It is a compelling premise, and the title was nominated in 2002 for an Eisner Award.for Best New Series and the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Series.

Frustratingly, after the 3rd issue completed the opening arc, the title disappeared. Years later in 2001, news that “Private Beach” was making a comeback by way of another independent publisher was a cause for celebration. But again, after the seventh issue of the new series was published in May of 2003, the story came to a halt again (with the most recent issue ending on a cliff hanger no less). Regrettably for the title, this was the year “Private Beach’s” creator David Hahn became busy with work from bigger US comic book publishing companies like Marvel Comics and DC Comics.

Last year saw an announcement that “Private Beach” to be re-released as a graphic novel in June. More importantly, the announcement noted that new pages have been added to complete a story that has been on hold since 2002. This of course is not the first time an interrupted series has risen from the ashes. The year 2016 also saw the completion of the second story arc on Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s “Scarlet” after a three year hiatus. In 2014, readers witnessed the completion of David Lapham’s long running crime noir “Stray Bullets”, which had kept readers hungering for resolution to a cliff hanger ending just under 9 years before.

“Private Beach” and projects like it highlight a rare and unique strength offered by the comics medium. Reviving a long dormant story in any medium presents a series of challenges, but other media have hurdles that complicate matters further. In those other media, multiple creative talents need to be reunited, including writers, directors and actors. In the realm of video games, older assets and software may need to be updated or recreated altogether. Getting all the pieces of the original puzzle back on the table can be a tricky and incomplete process. This is a big contributing factor as to why so many revivals of TV shows and movie series can fail to live up to expectations.

When it comes to comics though, there are far less pieces that need assembling. The list of creative talent that need to be brought back on board can be as short as two people, or even one. The medium makes it so easy to resume a halted story, that it is only real challenger in that regard is prose fiction or poetry. That is not to say that reviving a long delayed comics project an easy and painless task.

World Comic Book Review’s Greggory Basore took some time to chat with Mr Hahn about the challenges involved and his creative output in wrestling with these challenges.

Basore: Approximately how long a gap in time was it between setting aside work on “Private Beach” #8 and resuming work for it in anticipation of the collected volume?

Hahn: Work on “Private Beach” #8 tapered off in 2002, just after issue #7 was released. I was about 80% done with the art chores when mainstream work started pouring in, and I didn’t return to those pages until 2015.

Basore: If you could meet with your younger self, as he was beginning work on “Private Beach” #1, what, if anything, would you tell him to do differently?

Hahn: Considering that I’m nearly a generation older than that younger-self, I think I would tell him to temper the pissy attitudes the characters have now and again. And also I’d rein in some of the plot lines a bit. I’m not saying that it would in any way make the book better or get it finished sooner, but that’s the advice I’d give.

Basore: How different do you think the ending would have been if you’d finished that issue back then, as compared to finishing it now?

Hahn: It certainly would have been longer. I initially had the ending of this arc mapped out at 9-10 issues.

Basore: The ending feels very open ended. Are you leaving room to come back someday and do another story?

Hahn: Open ended is a nice way to put it. Yes, there is certainly that possibility, and if I did, the characters would be middle-aged. I don’t think I could capture lightening in a bottle again with the indy readers, but aging the characters is the only way I could find the voices of those characters again.

Basore: Would there be flashback filling in the gaps, or more of “here’s where they are now, and they’ll go forward from here” approach? Also, as middle aged characters, how many of the cast members would be the same but older, versus having changed drastically in the intervening years?

Hahn: I would certainly put flashbacks in there, to keep some of the old flavor. And the characters would be older versions of themselves. I think part of the fun would be to see some radial departures from paths we would expect characters to take. I can’t speculate on what those would be, though.

Basore: What were the biggest challenges in returning to a story so long abandoned? Are there any lessons you learned along the way that you’d pass onto other creators looking to revive dormant works?

Hahn: There were many challenges. The biggest challenge was finding a way to wrap up a story in 30 pages that was originally planned for at least 45 pages. Personally, I think the ending is a mixed bag. This leads directly into the next big challenge, which was that because I am not the same person I was when I wrote these characters in 2002, it was difficult to reconnect with them. Their outlook on life and their values are no longer, to a degree, the values I share. As much as I tried to make sure the characters didn’t date themselves, like with period slang, or certain specific pop culture-isms, the comic as a whole is a product of its time. So reconnecting was hard. I didn’t feel like I knew these “people” to the same degree as intimacy as I once did. Back then, they were peers, now I look at them as children.

Hahn: As far as advise for other creators, all I can say is if you have even an inkling to finish something or revisit it, do it. Not finishing this for so long has dogged the back of my mind for years, so, even though it’s not finished in the way I had originally planned it, I am glad to have it done.

Basore: Adaptations seem to be all the rage these days, if you were approached to adapt “Private Beach”, would you do it? If so, what other mediums do you think it’d fit best in?

Hahn: Back in 2002, I was approached by a couple of different entertainment media people to adapt “Private Beach” to and indy film and tv series. I think it would work best stripped down and made into a movie.

Basore: As a film, do you think it’d work better in color or black and white?

Hahn: Color, for sure. If I could have had the comic in color, I would have as well.

Basore: Are there any other incomplete works you’d like to circle back to one day?

Hahn: Oh, yes. Comedian John Roy and I had a comic book series called “Power Chords” that we were creating. We have a complete first issue written, drawn, lettered, and colored, but it wasn’t a paying job for either of us. John knew that the art is the heavy lifting and paid me a small amount for some pages out of his own pocket, but we needed to have multiple issues done before we could get it published and potentially see a return. But at that time, it just wasn’t feasible, so the project languished. I would love to be able to return to that project.

Basore: In a nutshell, what was “Power Chords” going to be?

Hahn: “Power Chords” can best be described as the story of “Superman”, but with his power coming from rock ’n roll instead of a yellow sun. It sounds hokey when I phrase it that way, but writer John Roy really knew what he was doing with this.

[NOTE: At this point, Hahn and I begin discussing story details that want into the territory of spoilers. If you want to read the story as freshly as possible, now may be the time to go grab a copy and come back to this article after reading it.]

Basore: A big point in the plot, that starts out as a seemingly stray bit of dialog, is the way that time feels like it moves faster. Was there any intention for that idea to be reflective of the amount of time passing outside the work?

Hahn: Not especially. That idea was a way to hook into that sensation of speeding time that everyone feels. In the case of “Private Beach”, speeding time is something deliberately engineered by malevolent forces.

Basore: The character Anita Lafond has a minor story arc that seems to fizzle. It feels as though something really important was being built up that hasn’t happened yet. Was there something you initially planned for her that fell by the wayside over the years?

Hahn: Anita Lafond is based on a guy that I really knew and had a similar experience with. The experience was so frustrating that I had to vent it in the form of the Anita character. She was a seed character that was planted and left vague so that I could double-back and use her to present new information or a new plot point if needed, but at the time, I didn’t know what that plot point or her arc would be.

Basore: The final scene of the main story with Trudy hearing that “Bionic Woman” is on TV serves as a nice bookending callback to the first issue, but is that all it is? Aside from being an age appropriate point of pop culture reference for Trudy, should readers feel that any sort of parallel is being drawn between the characters or stories?

Hahn: The “Bionic Woman” element from the beginning of the story was just meant to serve as a pop culture “control.” Just something that easily identifies the era of the moment and sort of puts the Trudy character into a generation, in this case, Generation X. The “Bionic Woman” callback at the end was just a way to bookend the story.

Basore: The “Beach Shorts” that were originally included in each single issue are now at the end of the collection, with the main story playing uninterrupted. What effect do you think this had on the narrative flow? Are readers meant to think of these vignettes any differently from reading them in this order, than when they followed the end of each chapter in single issue format?

Hahn: Those shorts, when they appeared in the quarterly issue, where meant as supplementals that didn’t necessarily tie into the main story of that issue. When collecting the “Private Beach” stories, putting in the shorts amongst the main feature would have broken the feature up in a way that I think would not serve the reader experiencing the story on one sitting. Those shorts were originally intended to serve as extras in a care package that came only four times a year.

Basore: This isn’t the first time that Trudy Honeyvan has returned after a long absence. She was first introduced in a miniseries back in 1995. Does the network’s altering of reality suggest that the earlier series was once part of Trudy’s past, but were rewritten? Also, does this mean that fans can look forward to Trudy emerging once per decade for an adventure?

Hahn: That The Network would be involved in erasing Trudy’s history in that first 3-issue series would be clever, but it was really just a matter of me thinking that first series just wasn’t up to snuff to be included in the collection. When “Private Beach” was released in 2000, I considered it a re-boot.

Basore: Are there any characters or elements from the original series that you would have liked to fit into the reboot that never came together?

Hahn: None! I retooled and recast all those original characters for the 2000 version. I consider the 1995 series to be the pilot episode of which only the best elements survived.

Basore: How much of the paranormal/supernatural events in the story are meant to be ambiguous? The story seems to walk the fine line between between the lead being delusional or aware of a greater reality, but the white streaks in Trudy’s hair at the end of the story seem to tell the reader that all of it was real. Is there a singular interpretation meant to be taken away, or is the story meant to be more open to the reader’s point of view?

Hahn: My intent is that everything that Trudy experiences is real. When I was first developing this version of “Private Beach” in 1999, I debated whether this was really happening, or all in her head. I figured, this is comics, where fantastical things can happen, so what would be the point of making it just a figment of Trudy’s imagination or brain wiring? So yes, the white streaks in her hair are meant to show a tangible effect of her adventures.

Basore: If you decide to continue Trudy’s story after this volume, are there any sorts of stories that you think would work better or worse today, than if they’d been done back when the series was first coming out?

Hahn: Hmmmm…If I revisited Trudy and her gang, I would certainly have to update them and age them. The amount of real time passed since their last appearance in print would have to be reflected in the story. Maybe give Siobhan a couple of kids, put all the primary players on real career paths. I might even do something out of left field, but totally plausible, like have the story start with Trudy being a CEO of a major company, or be a high level politician, just to show how much she’s accomplished in the years the readers didn’t see her.

Basore: If Trudy were a CEO, what kind of company would she be a part of? Also, how old would Siobhan’s kids be, and would they think of her as a cool mom?

Hahn: I certainly think Trudy would be on the board of a pioneering company, like VIRGIN, or any outside-the-box type of venture. I’d make Siobhan’s kids about grammar school age. Old enough to have wills and opinions.

Basore: If you were to have a face to face confrontation with Trudy, and she wanted answers on why you left her story on hold for so long, what would you tell her?

Hahn: I’d tell her the truth, that other things came up in my life that warranted more attention from me. Or, I’d just tell her time was speeding up too fast in her world and I needed to slow it down a bit.