Drnaso is an ace boundary technician... With his fluid framing — fitting anywhere from two to 24 panels to a page — he dictates information delivery, allowing the mind to breathe. His drawing style is at once poetically attuned to details of neighborhoods and interiors (the lit canopy of a gas station at night, the banquette at an antiseptic diner) and deceptively plain when it comes to the people who inhabit them. Figures are airtight yet textureless, with eyes like pinholes ... Drnaso subtly suggests that the current climate of constant horror, weaponized by hashtags and spread by autofill, has its seeds in the fall of the Twin Towers and our response to the tragedy. It’s a shattering work of art.
'It has become a cliché,' wrote Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, in “discussion of images of atrocity to assume that they have little effect, and that there is something innately cynical about their diffusion' ... Drnaso’s great achievement is that he never falls into Sontag’s cliché. He approaches his subject without cynicism, and without assuming cynicism in the characters he depicts ... Drnaso’s style...has a kind of subtle, dignified blankness ... He restricts himself to regular grids of square or rectangular panels, as few as six or as many as twenty-four per page ... Drnaso’s sustained rhythmic control is such that his carefully limited material never becomes tedious. Small panels speed us through ... It [the narrative] begins to feel like a series of setups and punch lines, banality unspooled and then cut short by horror. But as soon as we get used to this structure, Drnaso begins to complicate it. The punch lines stop coming ... We are left stranded there, on the thin tissue of the everyday—a futile hunt for a lost cat, the promise of a promotion at work—waiting for it to tear.
Drnaso’s simple, rigid drawings capture the bleak blankness of much contemporary life, anomie hovering over almost every interaction, both real and virtual. His muffled colors build the texture of a world bombarded with distraction yet void of connection, and his careful use of boxes and frames conveys the stunning lack of freedom the supposedly free space of the internet constructs, a dim and inert prison of both the body and the spirit ... Drnaso’s book leaves the audience holding its breath, hoping his flawed but sympathetic characters will find their way from lies to truth.
Nick Drnaso has produced an extraordinary – and extraordinarily upsetting – novel ... Drnaso allows himself to think the unthinkable; one’s worst fears about the disappearance of a loved one are directly addressed and, in most cases, grimly and grittily realised. He at no point lapses into cliche or sensationalism ... rhymes and echoes of action are spaced throughout the story like landmines. No line of dialogue is wasted – Drnaso’s story doesn’t feel “plotted”, but as though it is happening just as one feels life does, even those moments of great emotion, such as a character’s unimaginable anguish and helplessness in the face of uncertainty, or the clinical interest one can take in the prurient details of a reported crime as a distraction from the painful realities of one’s own existence.
Each page devotes space to silent beats and to the small motions of life ... This distanced sensibility extends throughout the novel and throughout Drnaso’s body of work ... Drnaso’s stories are tidy, unadorned, and judicious in their limited emotional range ... Another take on Drnaso is that his approach reveals, and rewards, a kind of trust. It provides for a range of feelings and allows readers to bring themselves to the work ... At its best, Drnaso’s work encourages readers — more thoroughly than might art with more explicit rendering of its characters — to recognize the interiority of other people ... Sabrina engages with the same characters, concerns, and tensions for 200 pages without denying readers interpretive latitude ... Sabrina never reads as though it’s sensationalizing the traumas of its characters. Nor does it read like a book overeager to capture The Way We Live Now. With Drnaso’s mutedness comes a kind of decorum, which is crucial for the success of a work like this ... But although Sabrina can be heavy-handed in choreographing such developments, it does capture, in a subtle, effective way, the allure of Douglas’s mindset to a vulnerable person ... Sabrina is never loud in its urgings toward empathy, but it rewards people willing to do the work necessary to achieve it.
Academics may find value in the artistic presentation of people dealing with the fringe, paranoid element that buys into conspiracies and presents threats to citizens dealing with personal tragedies that are blown up into social media movements. Drnaso personalizes the conspiracy of self-deception that many readers may see as absurd. This is not an easy feat and something unexpected in a work of graphic fiction ... The only comparison that comes to mind is how Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird dealt with racism on the personal level without devolving into a political polemic. Much like that novel, Sabrina forces the characters to confront the paranoid fringe as an insurgent in their own emotions and their emotionally relevant worldview ... Drnaso's art style is spare but full of impact. Faces are simplified and rooms seem overly spacious to the point of emptiness. Frames can be text heavy, mirroring the screens readers use to read this review. This backdrop exposes the isolation and domestic vacuum in contemporary life ... Sabrina is a thoughtful exploration of what many people in the United States are experiencing in 2018.
Drnaso has created a gut punch of a story that will likely make many year-end best-of lists. Loneliness and madness are timeless, but Sabrina, in its exploration of personal fears, is a precise time capsule of how desperate and deranged 2018 can make any of us.
The book's frontispiece perfectly encapsulates Drnaso's Spartan way with a line — a tightly controlled, even miserly approach to composition that seems inspired by how-to manuals or emergency diagrams ... this maestro of minimalism manages to convey the horror of senseless murder with nothing but a lumpy sheet and motionless red water in a bathtub.
...[an] absorbing graphic novel about grief, depression and the Information Age ... A theme throughout this finely wrought novel is that information technology bestows far more communicative power than anyone can responsibly wield ... In a prescient early scene, the two men are sitting on Calvin’s couch, drinking beer and watching a TV special on the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks...The words appear as closed captioning in black boxes, even though the men are presumably watching it with the sound on, caption-free. This is one in an arsenal of clever devices Mr. Drnaso uses to represent talk radio, cell-phone chatter and all the other inhuman noise that carries the human voice ... Sabrina is drawn in a smooth ligne claire style with simple human figures and lush backgrounds digitally colored in pastel hues ... he is a master at modulating the intensity of light ... Like any fine novelist, he is unafraid to confront us with the terrible facts of how people really live.
[Sabrina] has a literary sensibility that feels contemporary without being obvious. Drasno’s cartooning adds layers of complexity that serve his narrative, revealing nuances of his characters without betraying their secrets. In the end, the patience and restraint feels like kindness, and in an era of cruelty, that's about the most affirming emotional response one can hope for in a work of art.
Alienation is brilliantly drawn as directly impinging on the characters—showing how love and compassion become difficult as people are pushed away from each other in this fearful atmosphere ... he suppressed, almost muffled characters, move through the aptly pastel-grey and blue-toned frames which paint a nuanced indictment of a society at war with itself. It even manages a tone of hope at the end. Excellent and highly recommended.
Drnaso beautifully weaves an intricate story-simultaneously a riveting character study and a parable about the dangerous spread of misinformation and doubt-that blooms wider with every subsequent panel. And in an age of untruths, every word in Drnaso's book matters, from the seeming non sequitur that was the spring break story, to every passing comment uttered after. Sabrina is an artful masterwork, easily already one of the top books of the summer and demanding to be read.
His drawings are as simplistic as Satrapi’s, and somehow deader, less drawn, as if created on an iPad. A faded colour palette, heavy on the greige, adds an extra hit of emptiness to the atmosphere ... At times it feels as if you are watching CCTV footage, piecing it all together. Which can be very effective. Making the reader/viewer do the work, at the far extreme of show-don’t-tell, creates a powerful sense of realism ... Readers of Beverly will open Drnaso’s new book, Sabrina, on high alert, wise to the menace beneath the bland surface of Drnaso’s images ... in Sabrina the fee is simply too steep: the use of graphics leads not to speed and economy but to profligate narrative inefficiency ... Sabrina will likely be most readers’ introduction to Drnaso. Which is a shame, because it’s Beverly that’s the true treasure here.
Sabrina’s art throughout is assertive and immediate, yet non-hurried. In terms of writing, Drnaso doesn’t deal in first-draft ideas. He’s obviously a painstaking editor of his own work. He hits the American zeitgeist without cute social media sanctioned slang or characters throwing their arms up in a dab. Sabrina has no gimmicks. In fact, the book’s one fault might be its timeliness, but do you really see back-and-forths in bad faith and domestic distrust ceding anytime soon?
A lesser work would have undermined this genre-bridging nomination, making it look like a stunt. But Sabrina—short on words, big on humanity, succinct of plot—is not a lesser work ... The plot stakes of Sabrina are almost lurid: abduction, murder, conspiracy. But it is a gentle book. A great deal plays out inside cars, living rooms, bedrooms. The quietest and saddest panels in this quiet and sad book are the drawings that contain no people at all, like the Skype window after Calvin’s daughter has run out of frame, or a park with nobody in it. These scenes make the difference between absence and presence very clear. A person is there, or a person is not. It’s not complicated. Death is so basic and so powerful that we think up conspiracies to impose sense on it. Sabrina is a political book, in many ways, because it looks at the madness we provoke in each other on the internet. But it is also about walking through a room and then leaving it.
Reading this book is an unpleasant experience, which, to admirers such as Zadie Smith, makes it a perfect summation of 'our current moment' ... I’m not convinced. Polemics are supposed to inspire readers to action. Sabrina is instead an expertly executed moan. It offers no hope, no glimpse of human connection profound enough to make life worthwhile. Drnaso drains each page of joy, choosing a muted palette and reducing his characters’ eyes to dots.
The art is characterized by simplified, blocky figures moving though meticulously measured geometric settings... The result is a well-crafted, if often frustratingly distant, indie drama, as if Drnaso is reluctant to let too much messy emotion into his careful dioramas.