Let’s be upfront about this. Nick Drnaso’s new graphic novel Sabrina is something very special. It’s a story about loss and grief and social media and toxic masculinity and the world we find ourselves in today and it heralds Drnaso’s arrival as a real force in the field.
Sabrina is a book full of shadows and darkness and mystery. A woman disappears. Her sister struggles to cope, her boyfriend is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And then things get worse.
Meanwhile, around the edges of these lives electronic voices begin to pick and poke and distort and fracture things further.
Sabrina, Drnaso's second graphic novel (we reviewed his first, Beverley, here, is unnerving and frightening and, as I said in the Herald review last month, possibly the first graphic novel of the Trump era.
Nick Drnaso, who lives in Chicago and isn’t even 30 yet (sickening, isn't it?) agreed to talk to Graphic Content about the book’s origins and his own social media habits:
What were the origins of Sabrina? What did you want to explore?
I think the themes that are apparent in the book were on my mind from the start, but there wasn't any grand goal or strategy to actually see it through. I was experiencing my own paranoid fears, so that was where the basic premise came from.
How long did it take to make?
I took a train to Colorado Springs in December of 2014 to take reference photos for the book, but at that time the story was very unclear. I know I started drawing sometime soon after that at the beginning of 2015, and we sent the book to press right at the end of 2017.
Nice and easy question. Has social media licensed a lack of empathy. What is it doing to our brains?
It's been years since I've had a Facebook account and I don't use other forms of social media (except for Tumblr, which I made for sharing artwork but don't use very often), so I'm not qualified to say what kind of effect it's having. That's a big conversation that I don't really have a place in.
Should we put down our Twitter streams and step away?
I don't want to make any kind of self-righteous declaration. Everyone complains about social media, whether you don't engage with it or you're hopelessly addicted. It's just a conduit for people to talk to each other, and the way things are filtered and disseminated sometimes might distort the conversation. Beyond that, there are much smarter people who can tackle that question.
Your page layouts sticks to a relatively rigid grid panel layout with tweaks here and there. What do you prefer about this approach?
I just respond to structure. I would be lost if each page was truly a blank canvas, though I wish I could work in that way. I don't fret about it that much anymore. I liked that particular grid in Sabrina because of the large panels I could use strategically and reserve the small panels for dialogue and more minor actions. The story kind of meanders, and I didn't edit very tightly when there was an opportunity to show an abandoned hallway or a desolate parking lot. Hopefully, they served the story and didn't seem gratuitous. It just felt like the kind of book that needed some breathing room.
Is it a reflection that we now live in a world of screens?
I didn't think of the panels as any kind of reference to computer or phone screens. There aren't really any visual concepts at work in the book, at least none that I've planned. I guess I had a hunch that I could recreate those digital interfaces in a way that would fit with my drawing style, so all I can hope is that those sequences made sense.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
I waffle between the two. I don't really wallow hopelessly in pessimism, but I don't feel truly optimistic about a lot of things, if I'm being frank. Speaking only for myself, it's not such a bad thing to be conflicted about that issue.
It's become such an automatic part of my day that I don't even question what purpose it serves; maybe I should. I like to work, and I like to have something constructive to focus on, and something about drawing still connects to a comfortable, safe feeling from childhood that I can still reconnect to if things are going all right and I'm enjoying what I'm doing.
Who do you love? What do you love?
That's easy: My wife! We won't be married for a few more weeks, but I'm tired of saying "fiancée." She's really great. I love our cats and our friends, our apartment. A lot of things. I'm very grateful to be alive, and only feel sad when I'm too stressed to appreciate these things and they pass me by.
Complete the following sentence: “When I’m not making comics I …”
I really do spend a lot of time drawing comics, and when I'm not, it's hard to put them out of my mind and pay attention to what's going on around me. I need to figure out how to carve out time in the day to truly step away, but I've always had a hard time with the concept of leisure. I find it hard to sit down and read a book or take a walk with no destination.