Drawn and Quarterly
Drawn (mostly) in and around a set of boxes – this is American ennui, the suburban inertia, there’s no real desire to be better in these stories, no hope, no hype, but no coasting either – just people in the middle. Dreary, weird, detached lives with sexual repression barely repressed, with sexual energy palpable on so many of the pages, with a creepiness – in the text and images – that feels, er, drawn (pardon the pun) directly from the world of Todd Solondz.
I mentioned Solondz and Miranda July, along with a few others when reviewing Adrian Tomine’s devastating and brilliant collecting, Killing and Dying. And those names came to me again straight away with Nick Drnaso’s equally impressive, grim, unsettling and powerful set, Beverly. The difference, outside of the presentation (Drnaso draws in one style, keeps his action in a set of squares (while documenting a set of squares where Tomine presented different styles for each story) is that Drnaso doesn’t seem to envision any sort of hope for his characters. These are people not just just getting by, they are people uninterested in anything beyond. Killing and Dying’s stories all featured at least one character aiming for something greater and better, aiming to be better and/or greater…but Beverly is nearly John Waters-esque in its depiction of weird ones, though it’s much closer to Solondz, since there’s no camp-ness, nothing kooky and trash-kitsch, it’s a complete flat-line in the glamour stakes then.
There’s only just enough colour in these panels too – projecting just enough colour in these characters’ lives. God it’s so fucking grim, so bleakly, darkly funny. And also not at all funny. But there’s a beauty to the documentarian-eye of this graphic novelist. He’s captured something, something savagely real and the way these cartoon depictions leap off into fantasy worlds and return is beautifully controlled, such a clarity in the writing. It’s as if Happiness was never a film and only a graphic novel, as if Welcome To The Dollhouse was the textbook for the emotional range of the main characters here, as if Palindromes was the inspiration for how to drift in and around chronology, acknowledging its always there but still taking the scenic journey.
Drnaso doesn’t seem to have much hope for his characters, nor for the human condition. To see this play out the way it does you can’t blame him. You won’t feel good about how this plays out and concludes but it’s an impressive achievement nonetheless.