Arriving with advance praise from comics luminaries like Ivan Brunetti and Chris Ware, Nick Drnaso’s debut graphic novel Beverly hits stores this week. It’s easy to see why these big names have given their support to the up-and-coming cartoonist: Like Brunetti and Ware, Drnaso is fixated on using the comic-book medium to explore the complexities of the human condition, and employs a stark, streamlined visual style that keeps the focus on the emotional life of the characters. His work on Beverly is composed of tight grids that change dimensions to evoke different moods, and these dense layouts allow him to detail all the nuances in his characters’ expressions.
In this excerpt from a chapter titled “The Saddest Story Ever Told,” a mother and daughter watch a new TV sitcom sent to them as part of a focus group study, and the mother is disappointed to discover that all the focus group questions center on the advertisements rather than the actual content. This theme of shattered expectations plays out throughout the graphic novel, taking different forms as these characters age and their surroundings change. The stakes are small in “The Saddest Story Ever Told,” but they get bigger as Drnaso delves deeper into the lives of his cast and finds new ways to make them quietly suffer.