What with many things being suboptimal in these times, there’s certainly an appetite for art that captures a snapshot of the moment. It’s not like history isn’t going to have things to say about the global present, so there’s much to appreciate about an interesting take. Those who read Nick Drnaso’s previous book, Beverley, will be used to his precise, dispassionate delivery where shocking revelations slip out like chitchat about the weather. As excellent as that was, this new graphic novel is a serious step up in terms of his ability to pinpoint the exact moment we are living in now. Of course, considering that this will have been started several years ago, it's also impressive as an act of prophecy.
Despite the title, Sabrina does not appear in this book. Her disappearance is simultaneously at its heart and entirely absent from it. Instead of focusing on her, we see the impact on those affected by what has happened to her, distancing us. Much of the time we follow a soldier, Calvin, trying to support an old friend Teddy who is struggling to process what has happened to his girlfriend. Calvin doesn’t really know what to do, and by focusing on him not Teddy, Drnaso pushes us another step back from Sabrina. Similarly, a friend tries her best to support Sabrina's sister, offering a visualisation of reaching a state of calm that is briefly implied to be a success before revealing to be utterly bereft of effect. It’s a pain that can’t be made better by doing anything.
Of the things that follow, some are distinctively American, such as the people who feel able to process their feelings only by carrying out mass shootings. Drnaso explores the risks of giving attention to killers and speculating on their motives rather than focusing on the victims. There’s also a radio DJ who appears to be of a similar ilk to the egregious Alex Jones, spouting conspiracy theories and seeing false flags everywhere. More universally, we see the angry young men of the internet and MRA forums, with the inevitable doxxing and death threats. Sabrina conveys the combination of bafflement, impotence and terror that must arise when one receives threats via rambling, paranoid emails from strangers. Lost, angry people lash out, fed by a corrupt media.
Drnaso draws his characters in such a way that we get very little facial detail; eyes are often just small, solid dots in impassive faces, somehow conveying just enough to make the events horribly real. As with his previous book, the soft colours and bland locations belie the events he depicts. Structurally, the pacing is flawless, such as in a scene triggered by a missing radio where the use of darkness combined with skilful panel sequencing generates serious tension. In both form and content Sabrina is a masterpiece, and cannot be recommended highly enough.