Secrets of Camp Whatever is an original graphic novel by Chris Grine published by Oni Press. This nearly 300-page graphic novel tells the story of Willow, whose family just moved to a strange new town. Wil is going to spend the summer at the same strange camp on a fog-shrowded island that her dad went to as a kid, Camp… Whatever.
I am a total sucker for camp-based stories. Summer camp is a truly special place where kids can grow and forge connections without the pressure of adults to disrupt their natural formation. They also make for great supernatural settings, and Secrets of Camp Whatever largely takes advantage of both. From very early on in the story, Willow makes friends she has an immediate intimacy with. Willow herself is full of personality, never falling too neatly into any one stereotype or another. She is also deaf, and for the most part, I appreciated the way the book doesn’t make this her defining characteristic in any way. It’s just a part of her character. A few plot pieces revolve around it, and the camp director repeatedly makes uncomfortable notice of it.
However, my trouble with the characters is that they’re all so interesting except for the other main characters. Wil’s cabinmates are great friends to her, but they’re rather flat characters who neither grow nor show much personality. The book’s one Black character gets sidelined more than once, and even the jerks in the story have at least distinctive jerk personalities that any reader in the younger target age range can laugh at. To some degree, I can see this as a means of letting the reader impart themselves onto the tagalong cabinmates. But I don’t think that makes up for the lack of personality.
The other characters throughout the story are bursting with personality, though. As the reader slowly uncovers more of Camp… Whatever’s mysteries alongside Willow, everyone she interacts with along the way gets more and more interesting to know. The one other thing that just bothered me is that early on in the story, there’s a lot of bullying and none of that ever feels like it gets appropriate resolution.
I enjoy the art style overall in Secrets of Camp Whatever. At first, the odd character designs of the camp’s staff are a bit offputting, but it becomes clear why they look how they do as the story goes on, and the campers are all drawn and colored well. I appreciate that their hair or clothes pop out against the fog and forest colors of many of the book’s backgrounds. Grine’s impressive drawing of shadows is cool to see, whether the shadows are coming from leaves making patterns on somebody’s shirt from above or hair over people’s faces. The lettering is also large and easy to read, with small amounts of text at a time to help keep panels from being overbearing.
Like many of Oni Press’s graphic novels, Secrets of Camp Whatever’s greatest issue is simply that it’s too short. Even with its impressive length, I can’t help but wonder how well this story could have been told and how much deeper its characters and settings could have been fulfilled if it had the luxury of a longer serialized format.
Alas, in the world as it is, Secrets of Camp Whatever is an enjoyable graphic novel for fans of camp and cryptids. Not all of its characters are completely fulfilled, but what it does offer is fun and engaging all the way through.
Secrets of Camp Whatever is available wherever comics are sold March 16th.
Secrets of Camp Whatever
Secrets of Camp Whatever is an enjoyable graphic novel for fans of camp and cryptids. Not all of its characters are completely fulfilled, but what it does offer is fun and engaging all the way through.