Sam Ombiri on Nick Drnaso’s Beverly – plus other comics and news!
Sam Ombiri here: With Beverly, Nick Drnaso is clearly not making a story just to flex his muscles or impress us. Although there’s no mistake about it – this book is really impressive. However, all this – the complexity of the stories and the characters that are drawn mysteriously, in a sparse way – felt like it was done out of the necessity of being loyal to the ideas that Drnaso wanted to convey.
Often in the book there’s a sense that Drnaso doesn’t let us look at the real problem that his characters seem to be vaguely aware of, instead blaming other red herrings, no matter how extreme they can end up being (like in the end of “Lil’ King”, which was easily my favorite story). Or for example, in the first story towards the end when a character named Tim walks into Rich’s office, Rich is upset, and we don’t ever find out the reason (at least as far as I know). I think the reason would make for a very unsatisfactory reading, and would really simplify things in a bad way.
In “Virgin Mary”, Mary’s face is only shown at the beginning, and for the rest of the story it’s hidden. “Virgin Mary” is narrated like one of those crime investigation specials that air on TV, and this element kind of builds on something in an earlier story. In the second story, which is titled “The Saddest Story Never Told”, a character named Cara (who was subtly introduced in the first story) is watching an “advance copy” of a new Sitcom that is being test marketed. She is watching it with her mother, and the comic just becomes us watching the sitcom. Thankfully, it is not a gimmick that Nick Drnaso is implementing in an exploitative manner. That is to say, it’s beautifully mundane, but Drnaso isn’t just flexing his avant garde muscles at the expense of the story – he executes it with great simplicity. Because a TV is square and panels can be square, Drnaso just changes the size of the panels to match the TV, and the panel size remains consistent for the duration of the tape.
The sitcom is really uninteresting and that’s what’s so great. It reveals a lot about the way Drnaso tells his stories. He isn’t rushing to brag about how cynical he can be, by being ironic and bashing how uninteresting the TV show is. Rather, he makes it interesting, but not too interesting, and I’m just speaking about the sitcom itself. Nevermind how Cara’s mother is desperately trying to project a more optimistic future for her and her children through this tape. The sitcom is actually engrossing! Drnaso somehow simultaneously conveys how uninteresting this sitcom is and makes it interesting. There’s actually an aspect to the way he draws that distantly seems to be uninteresting, but it’s not, in fact. It’s far from uninteresting.
So later on in “Virgin Mary”, the way the story is narrated (again, like a crime investigation special) feels like a heightened reality, something that the TV show’s suburban dwellers usually watch, which ends up contributing to the way they see reality. That then becomes the story we are reading, both from the way it’s narrated and what’s happening in the story itself (innocent people are blamed for a kidnapping). To me, viewing the story this way automatically can be attributed to how in “The Saddest Story Never Told” there was a very little to indicate the difference between what was TV and what was real life. The only information I got, really, was that when it was TV sound was coming out of the panel instead of just being in the panel. “Virgin Mary” is such an amazing point in the book – it’s like a big cry being let out. And that’s just one part among six great stories.
Nick Drnaso gives a very specific amount of detail, and the stories move along rather rapidly – my eyes automatically go from panel to panel, as the story is so clearly laid out. It might even be my hundredth time reading the story, but it keeps me engaged every time. I can jump into any section, and it’s just as easy for me to recapture the essence of each moment as when I read it the first time. It’s clear that Beverly was made to be enjoyable to read, and the success of the comic is, for lack of a better term, almost severe. It’s strengths are obvious when you read it, so I don’t need to go on praising it. You don’t have to believe the stories in the book, because the book believes them for you. – Sam Ombiri
Get a copy of Beverly by Nick Drnaso HERE. Congratulations to Nick for winning the New Talent prize at the 2018 Angoulême International Comics Festival for the French edition of Beverly! Keep an eye out for Nick’s new book Sabrina, coming from Drawn & Quarterly in May.
News of Note
- Shannon Wright drew the first Google Doodle of February, kicking off Black History Month with a celebration of Carter G. Woodson. Read about it HERE.
- Beyond the Longbox profiles Ronald Wimberly, who talks about the origins of his works, his thought process, and upcoming projects – HERE.
- There’s an interview with Robb Armstrong (creator of the comic strip JumpStart, one of the most widely-syndicated strips by an African-American author ever) on The Sentinel. Read it HERE.
- Check out this interesting article about the Peanuts character Franklin – it covers the backstory of his introduction to the strip by Charles Schulz, and his continuing history.
Joanie and Jordie – 2-8-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio