The atmosphere of boredom, longing and the desire for something greater has only become more pronounced ... With their mild manners and dialogue of bland pleasantries...frequently hiding uglier perversities, they seem almost like robotic caricatures of small-town Midwesterners by way of David Lynch. This impression is highlighted by Drnaso's style, which emphasizes flatly inexpressive features and hauntingly empty landscapes ... It's possible that Acting Class relies almost too much on its inarguably surprising and disturbing reveal to cap things off. But his careful building of suspense and overpoweringly eerie mood makes the long build worthwhile well before the final and powerfully cinematic twist.
My stomach lurched a bit when I picked up Acting Class, Drnaso’s first full-length outing since Sabrina. Is it as wildly successful as its predecessor? In truth, I’m not sure that it is. But my queasiness was hardly misplaced. In this book, Drnaso again distills quite brilliantly aspects of 21st-century anomie and alienation ... Acting Class isn’t an easy read. Drnaso’s blank, Playmobil-ish faces are hard to tell apart; I sometimes struggled to work out which character was which. The way he presents the class’s improvisations as reality on the page can also be, to put it mildly, extremely confusing.
... a tender and disturbing glance into average Americans’ modern and ever-drifting life. Drnaso displays his understanding of a specific type of human psyche – scarred by the wards of the past and held down by the ennui of the present ... Drnaso’s style is straightforward, each panel presents information via delicate details and sparse mise en scènes. Unlike many of his peers, he hides nothing behind flashy artistic flourishes, ultra-violent imagery, or derelict prose ... Drnaso can draw more elaborate illustrations, yet he prefers to have few lines in his panels, and every line counts. Drnaso is also a very good writer ... his ability to conjure complex thoughts and rivet and drive the story with a few lines of dialogue is mesmerizing. Words and pictures complement each page like a pianist and singer creating one song. Nothing is wasted. With this third graphic novel, Drnaso has developed an oeuvre and aesthetic that is all his own and instantly recognizable ... Drnaso makes excellent use of the graphic novel as a medium by depicting the real and the imagined as states of reality just a panel away ... There are many parts of the book that left me bewildered, and that’s okay, if albeit a little distressing. Like many, I don’t fully understand our current tumultuous cultural-political moment. Acting Class is a rapturous critique of our moment, and fittingly it offers no answers – there isn’t even a semblance of a gratifying closure. A mark of a meaningful venture is how many questions it leaves upon its completion. There should be many questions at the end of a class, book, or journey. I closed Acting Class’ cover, stared at it, and realized that an abyss was looking back at me. It felt eerily comforting.
The central choice might be to decide whether your existing artistic trajectory has reached full flower and it is time to move onto the risky high-wire of something new, or instead maintain the course that got you to this peak and just go do that voodoo that you do. Acting Class is the latter, new characters animated by something very like the established spirit, in a story inflated to a larger diameter from the inside ... The length is down to the plot, following a dozen working class individuals as their storylines come together, separate, and come together again ... When the story aims for poignancy, on the whole the eyes don't have it. When it touches on historic sexual assault and child abuse, the affect puts distance between reader and character just at the point where you need to get your bearings ... Although wanting comics art to be elegant and slick and to hold your hand is a road to nowhere, there's still a difference between drawings made ungainly to imbue them with power and drawings that are just ungainly. That difference is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, like most are. But if an artist reopens a seam of gold that led a previous work to 'advance beyond the comics that preceded it,' then it's fair to ask whether the new comic built on that hot frontier is making you think, or just making you read.
... mesmerizing ... Through clean, minimalist linework, Drnaso builds a world we think we understand. Then, slowly and methodically, he breaks it all down—and with it, our understanding of the human condition ... As the students work to apply Smith’s teachings to their lives, Drnaso visually and narratively blurs the line between fantasy and fiction ... As Drnaso interrogates the ways in which we pretend, pose and allow ourselves to be the playthings of others and society at large—whether we want to admit it or not—Acting Class becomes a stirring, incisive exploration of human nature.
Manoeuvring so many people at once, particularly in a graphic novel, is a risk for both the writing and the imagery – so many heads in panels, so many voices to define. But Drnaso’s work is distinguished by its commitment to character and expression. The deceptive simplicity of his illustration permits for much more subtle emotion; the fact that he spends so much time lingering on these faces, and that they are made up of such basic shapes, allows for constant reinterpretation. What was previously a half-smile might later be a blank stare, and where there was once affection might now be concern ... Some of these lives are developed so meticulously that it is hard to disentangle what reality might be in the face of such invention and internal trembling. Others, however, seem to peter out, or hit a ceiling. Lou’s identification with his role as a dog is at first the most fascinating story of the group, but it doesn’t take long to plateau, and is eventually submerged beneath fleshier, more captivating stories ... Within a book as ambitious and beautifully told as Acting Class, though, these criticisms are practically negligible. Combined with Sabrina, and some elements of Beverly, Drnaso is capturing the palette and the pathos of everyday America, in a way that easily suggests comparison to Edward Hopper. His mastery of small talk and silence, and the vein of aggression that runs through so much of our interior lives, proves that he is deeply embedded under the skin of his characters. It means that even in a setting as artificial and as self-aware as an acting class, Drnaso’s work never reads false.
What starts out as a low-key portrait of a group of ordinary unsatisfied people trying something new winds up a sometimes sinister but always philosophical meditation on the quest for deeper meaning ... There were many times while reading the book that I got mixed up about which character was being depicted. But this isn’t a criticism. By leaving them half-realized and vague, his heroes become universal and also easily relatable to a variety of readers. They’re like unfinished costumes anyone could slip into. The acting exercises do nothing to lessen the characters’ interchangeability ... The ending may be a bit too Twilight Zone for its own good in being weird for the sake of weird but if I ever see a flyer for a free acting class, I will run the other way. I might even tear it off the wall and throw it in the trash as a public service. Some doors are best left unopened.
Darkly gripping ... Drnaso’s mastery of pacing and tone, plus his knack for developing characters through specific detail and natural dialogue, results in an incisive exploration of alienation that is increasingly unsettling as it builds to a shocking conclusion.
That the reader bothers turning the page, faced with such hopeless material, is down to the fact that Drnaso knows this world so well ... On first inspection it is hard visually to distinguish the ten characters from one another. They have bland, expressionless faces with little eyes and tight mouths. On a closer look it is astonishing how much emotional detail Drnaso manages to convey with a slight turn of the mouth or widening of the eyes. We start to find tiny emotional clues in all these empty faces ... Drnaso’s regular and repetitive cell-like panels are a perfect fit for presenting trapped lives. Each 21 x 25cm page has, with few exceptions, five rows of three small square panels, rolling endlessly and tediously on. And even when things begin to get extreme – there is a violent attack, a child imagined as a monster – nothing ever breaks out of the frame. There are no explosions of colour, no dynamic challenges to the confined format. The art, like the lives it depicts, does not question or test its limits. Alternatives to this desolate vision may be available but, while reading, it is as if they do not exist. By design, or perhaps by nature, Nick Drnaso cannot bring himself to draw them.
Unnerving, mind-bending ... With deliberately choppy jumps in the narrative, questions mount ... Drnaso masterfully digs into the group’s psyches, unearthing their deepest desires, anxieties, and troubled backstories ... Drnaso’s signature flat art and homogenous expressions gets established then strikingly interrupted by wild, imaginative depictions of the surreal scenarios. The result is a provocative portrait of the search for connection and meaning in modern life.