Beverly is the debut graphic novel of Nick Drnaso, a young, up-and-coming illustrator, but it’s something a lot more special than that. It’s also a lot more complex than it seems, and after being engulfed by the book on my first read, the subsequent revisits to it prove to me that Drnaso is a talent worth watching. With his precise stroke of pen and the shiny, happy coloring, one can be forgiven for not immediately cottoning to it. I didn’t; at first, I thought it too antiseptic, too clean, too generic. After the first chapter, though, it all made sense. Once you realize the reason for such a clean style, you’ll quickly be lulled into Beverly’s web, only to discover there’s a much darker, ominous side to this initially generic-looking story.
Beverly is set in Suburbia, U.S.A; a quiet mention of Illinois is about as close to a definitive pinning down of location as you’ll get. The book tells the story of a corpulent suburban family; mother and father are middle-aged, overweight, and seemingly blissfully content. But the plot of Beverly is focused on teenage daughter, Cara, and her ten-year old brother, Tyler. Yet it is to Drnaso’s credit that he masterfully weaves in glimpses of other people’s lives while telling Tyler and Cara’s story—often in such a secondary way that one almost misses the connection to the family. In one story’s case—“Virgin Mary,” the most disturbing of Beverly’s tales—it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it connection that is both quite subtle and devastatingly powerful in its revelation.
That Drnaso can pull off a major revelation in such a blasé manner is part of Beverly’s magic. It’s a commentary on the trivial nature of humanity that a person’s life and their story can be dissolved down to a single, damning line. That a character can go from having a dimensional existence and yet be reduced in their own life story to a brief mention from an otherwise auxiliary character—whose sole purpose seems to be just to make that revelation—that is the sign of a masterful story teller. One you hear that line, that’s the only thing you’ll ever think about when you think about that character. Beverly’s plot twists that are as shocking and as unexpected as anything you’d find in the best of M. Night Shyamalan's earliest work, and a very ominous shadow of darkness in an otherwise blasé American landscape that Stephen King hasn’t been able to recreate in three decades. Yes, I’m aware that those aren’t graphic artists like Drnaso, but that’s the point: he has the eyes of a cinematographer and the instincts of a literary master.
Beverly is the work of a young man with great promise, and though debuts are often hit or miss, this is a compelling, complex, intelligent, and disturbing book, and all the better for it. Beverly is easily the best graphic novel of 2016.