‘Beach Days’ author teaches you what she didn’t know

Audrey Hopkins was thrilled when she got the gig to produce a full-length comic book about all kinds of sea stuff for Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab.

It was a great opportunity for Hopkins, who’d recently graduated from CSULB with a degree in animation. About the only thing giving her pause was the fact that she didn’t have any experience producing a comic book and, as far as the ocean was concerned, she really didn’t have much experience with that, either.

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually gone ‘in’ the ocean,” she said. “I’m from Northern California where you can’t really get ‘in’ the ocean. For me and my friends, we’d just step in the ocean and see who could stand there the longest.”

In “Beach Days, Share the Waves” Hopkins created a cast of ocean vet characters and one named Nicky—“What’s so great about the ocean?”—who was as clueless as her. Through them, she not only tells stories but relates real-life advice on how to deal with riptides, stingrays, jellyfish and, yes, sharks.

When Hopkins was given the project in October, Shark Lab director Chris Lowe gave her an outline with several lessons to be taught. She began by doing quite a bit of research, much of it online and, as she was technically an employee of the Shark Lab while working on the book, started attending department meetings, though, she admits, most of the time “I really didn’t know what they were talking about.”

From that, Hopkins gradually developed characters and storylines until she had come up with “Beach Days,” which came out this week and will be available at the Shark Lab’s annual open house, Saturday, July 20.

While a comic book may not be the first method one thinks of when it comes to an understanding of the ocean, it makes sense that Lowe would consider it since, on a recent episode of “Can You Hear Me, Long Beach,” he said that scientists have a duty to be accessible to the public in just about every media they can.

Lowe depended heavily on Kim Dwinell, who teaches animation at Cal State Long Beach, to find the right person for the project. Dwinell chose Hopkins who could not be more different from her, aquatically. Dwinell is a former Laguna Beach lifeguard and surfer who says she’s “happiest in the ocean,” but she had watched Hopkins progress through CSULB and noted not just her talent but her work ethic.

“Both components are needed to finish a comic; it is a time-consuming medium,” Dwinell said. “Both comics and film require that the artist be able to draw appealing characters over and over sequentially to tell a story. I knew Audrey had this ability.”

Of course, so does Dwinell. Volume two of her “Surfside Girls” graphic novel, which recently came out, is likewise about young people dealing with life and the ocean.

“I love graphic novels. Not only are they a fabulous medium for fiction stories, but they can be used really effectively as informative or instructional texts,” Dwinell said. “So many of us are visual people, and while words can tell you something, pictures really reinforce, and at the viewer’s own speed. A film can deliver content visually, but a graphic novel invites the viewer to linger. I know Audrey worked really hard to make sure that while this comic delivers all of the safety information that Dr. Lowe wanted, it also had a compelling story that would keep the reader engaged. I’m so excited that Dr. Lowe also sees the value of comics. There are some really lucky young people on beaches right now who got a cool gift!”

You can tell from the lilt in Hopkins’ voice that she’s feeling a bit of Christmas in July, herself. Soon to be married, she says she really loves how everything turned out.

“When you’re going through it, you know, sitting at a desk day after day, it’s normal to doubt yourself,” she said. “I don’t know any artist who doesn’t doubt themselves. But now I know. I know I can handle this, get through a full-fledged story and it feels nice. I guess I can call myself an author.”

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Steve Lowery began his journalism career at the Los Angeles Times, where he planned to spend his entire career. God, as usual, laughed at his plans and he has since written for the short-lived sports publication The National, the L.A. Daily News, the Press-Telegram, New Times LA, the District and the OC Weekly. He is the Arts & Culture Editor for the Post, overseeing the Hi-lo.