Beach Safari
by Markus Mawil Witzel
(Top Shelf, 2003)

Beach Safari opens far from the land of its title. On a dark and stormy sea, a small raft is shattered; its sole inhabitant, a bespectacled rabbit, washes ashore just in time for the title page. Attacked by seagulls, menaced by jellyfish, confused by fishing, the rabbit nevertheless discovers an oasis: three vacationing girls, loaded with sandwiches, water and a penchant for nudity.

The real meat of Beach Safari is the art. Mawil's characters have the raw energy of gesture drawings, with simple forms made of only the most essential lines. The energy of the visiting girls, the shyness and constant nerves of the rabbit, are illustrated as much by their basic appearance as by their actions. The landscapes of Beach Safari are equally abstract, but rough and expansive. The simple shades of endless beach scenes are more forgiving of Mawil's grey tones and heavy inks than most landscapes. The simple contrasts actually serve to highlight the starkness of the ocean, and the essential inhospitality of the beach, made livable only by the presence of the three girls and their foreign cargo. But even the emptiness of the beach seems welcoming next to Mawil's black ocean, which curls and froths in endless wild breakers.

But it's to the wild sea that our rabbit returns, when the girls end the safari and go back to their unseen homes. No particular explanation is given; Beach Safari isn't long on plot. Between the watery echoes of the first and last pages, the bunny's time with the girls is nothing but a snapshot, a mostly wordless diversion from whatever larger journey awaits. There's nothing to suggest or even encourage speculation on a more intricate message.

But perhaps a deeper meaning lurks in this simple tale of girls and rabbit. Is the girls' casual, almost callous friendship with the rabbit a metaphor for the shallowness of modern relations? Does their inability to grasp the desperation of his situation in the midst of their own luxury represent the ignorance of First World nations to the problems of a newly globalizing world? Could our rabbity hero's diversion by radio-playing sirens be a homage to Odysseus, lured away from his great voyage by the charms of Calypso?

Almost certainly not. If nothing else, social satire generally involves more dialogue and fewer Jan & Dean lyrics. And literary homages tend to be less fun and more blatant. But a vacation doesn't need a deeper meaning to be fulfilling; sometimes it's fun to just kick back, watch the waves and let deeper questions sail off over the horizon.

by Sarah Meador
18 February 2006

Buy it from