The Written Image: “Sabrina” by Nick Drnaso

From the May/June 2018 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

At first glance, Nick Drnaso’s second graphic novel, Sabrina—which begins when its title character, a young woman living in Chicago, goes missing—might seem like a mystery. But after Sabrina’s disappearance is picked up by both the media and conspiracy theorists, the book quickly becomes much more—namely, an exploration of what privacy and grief look like in the Internet age. Sabrina, which is out this month from Montreal comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly, braids the narratives of three characters who grow more isolated and paranoid as they struggle to address Sabrina’s disappearance.

Drnaso deftly contrasts the fear and heartbreak of the story with his understated style of illustration—muted colors, clean lines, and unshaded images reminiscent of Chris Ware’s work—while amplifying the sense of loneliness and entrapment. The characters, for instance, often appear expressionless and are almost never depicted talking to one another in the same frame. Drnaso used the same approach in his first graphic novel, Beverly (Drawn & Quarterly, 2016), which offered a similarly nuanced view of American suburbia. In a 2016 interview with the Comics Journal about that book, Drnaso said of his style, “I’ve fully embraced rigidity. There’s simplicity in it, I think. At a certain point I realized that stripping away was more effective than going in and adding things….I wanted to tear things down to their essence.”

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