Nick Drnaso's Sabrina: In stores now!
Publishers throw around terms like "The most anticipated book of the year" all the time. It's in our blood. We can't help ourselves! …But I've heard enough rumblings about Nick Drnaso around convention floors lately to make my ears shoot smoke, and based on the early reviews of his new book, Sabrina, it's not just cartoonists who are following his work closely. And rightfully. When a cartoonist's debut work is as strong as Nick's first book, Beverly, anticipation for the next thing is always high. But it's very safe to say that Nick exceeded our wildest expectations with this one.
I sat here for a while thinking about all the small choices Nick makes throughout the book that somehow communicate so much. But calling them small seems wrong. Nothing is really small here. Or, rather, the strength of the work, in part, is all these small, subtle things, from every thoughtful position Nick puts a body into to wardrobe choices to (bad) nutrition decisions that tell us so much about the story, the characters, the current state of America that Nick is quietly examining and thoughtfully, hauntingly presenting. The gut-wrenching emptiness that surrounds us when we lose the ability to communicate and interact as humans, meaningfully, compassionately. It's these seemingly small decisions that help this book about emptiness to feel so full.
There is of course one big event in Sabrina, the murder of the title character—the aftermath of which our story examines—but for me, the small elements are what captured my attention most, sinking in slowly as I went, and making the horror of it all much more universal and prescient than the horror of one murder (does that make me sound horribly cold?). I could attempt to say it better than Zadie Smith, who calls Sabrina the best book—in any medium—about our current moment, but I know my limitations.
And if I may nerd out on the design elements for a moment: this book is such a thoughtful, gorgeous package. The cover (front and back) and opening page of the book are scanned from glass paintings, something Nick's been interested in for a while now, and does so beautifully. The endpapers are drawn from memory—the wallpaper in the basement of his grandmother's suburban home (I'm probably getting this fact slightly wrong... sorry Nick). The title page, reminiscent of a prayer card, while also feeling a little like movie credits, which is very appropriate for his style of storytelling. And the back cover—a lush explosion of flowers. A funeral bouquet? The sun coming up after the storm? Or could Nick just not stand to draw one more depressing image and needed to make this beauty back cover selfishly? Either way, it's stunning. And the more I look at it and think on it, hell, I think we all kinda need it.
If you want to know more plot points, you can read about those over at the book's page. But really you're better off just reading the book, which is in stores now. Nick will be launching Sabrina in Chicago this Thursday, with other Chicago appearances at CAKE and Printer's Row (where he'll appear with Adrian Tomine) in June.