Friday, March 25, 2016


Beverly is a collection of short stories set in the recent past (the 1990s, I would guess) in a generic Midwestern suburb. Most of the stories come from the perspective of bored, somewhat surly, and capricious teens who want to drink, party, and have sex to allay their condition. The first story focuses on some workers stuck in a dull, thankless job that one guy takes way too seriously. I thought it was an interesting take on adolescent relationships, and I have to say it also felt like a time machine for me, taking me back to an uncomfortable and strangely familiar place.
The second tale, "The Saddest Story Ever Told," is about a family taking part in a focus group activity for a new television show. As you can see below, the whole enterprise is pretty mundane and the resulting disappointment is as muted as the color scheme of the entire book.
The rest of the stories in this book (about an uncomfortable family vacation, an alleged kidnapping, an encounter at a party between two estranged friends, and a creepy massage session) share in these themes of desperation, loss, awkward relationships, repressed sexuality, and submerged violence. They are also connected by some common characters, so there is a weird sense of continuity in play as well. Probably the best of these for me is the third tale, "The Lil' King," about that vacation. The disconnect between the parents and their children is to be expected, but the violence in the mute young son's daydreams is terrifying. Overall, I found the stories spare and compelling, and with details and events parceled out to maximize suspense and revelation. These are some finely crafted comics.

This book's creator Nick Drnaso has been nominated for multiple Ignatz Awards. He has published stories in various anthologies and works as a cartoonist and illustrator in Chicago. His artwork is very stylized and geometric, resembling a cross between Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, which is good company. He speaks more extensively about his work on this debut book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book indicate that the art and stories are artful but maybe appreciated by specific tastes. Publishers Weekly wrote, "The streets, houses, and people that populate the linked pieces of Drnaso’s blandly terrifying debut collection all share a soul-deadening, right-angled sameness that turns into its own kind of nightmare." Hillary Brown wrote that the comics work is deft but the stories are depressing perhaps to the point of being off-putting: "Even if all of this is true (it might be), the daily experience of living is rarely so unleavened by joy, and reading page after page of it makes one want to go turn on a Busby Berkeley musical to compensate." Dan Kois called it" uncomfortable, fascinating."

Beverly was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they have preview images and more here. This should be apparent by now, but this is a book for mature readers and not meant for children.

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