Pulp Cult #2: Nick Drnaso – Beverly

Art & Culture

If I describe Beverly, you may not want to read it. There are moments when Nick Drnaso’s debut collection conspires to be the most depressing piece of art you’re likely to consume all year. It’s left me with a question that’s demanded repeated thumb throughs – how can something so very miserable be so very entertaining?

Over a series of loosely connected vignettes Drnaso portrays a bleak, sunbaked suburban America. Banal lives unfurl; collapsing soap operas of pettiness, sexual frustration, self-deception, spiralling obesity and an ever present sense of failure. The art and content dovetail – Drnaso’s characters are drawn with clip art features and coloured in bland pastels. His artwork is as economical as an aircraft safety card, all the more fitting as the everyday folk he writes feel like they’re living with slow motion disasters as catastrophic as a plane crash. Casual racism coexists with low wage work, there's no love, only a series of defeated urges, and dialogue is a hodge podge of misunderstanding and simmering aggression – if nothing else, Beverly is a reminder that the mundane is rarely harmless.

But it’s all so perfect – the weird, pointless conversations, the thwarted dreams, the big fish in little ponds, they are utterly recognisable, even comically so. In the book’s second story a suburban mom is beside herself with excitement to be sent a preview copy of a new TV pilot. The comic then switches to show the program itself, a grind of faux family values and bullshit wacky characters interspersed with relentless advertising – then, when finally the mom’s chance comes to have some creative input on the direction of the show, her joy at just finally being involved in something she loves is cruelly stripped away. It’s a bit humourous, but mostly it's low key heartbreaking, and it makes me wonder how Drnaso gets through the day.  

There’s a quote on the back of Beverly from Chris Ware- let’s say he’s the Mark Kermode of comics; “if it was a film Drnaso would be heralded as a “stunning new directorial voice.” If it was a novel, he would be a “literary sensation.” And he’s right – this book is exceptional, a marriage of form and content that maps the modern malaise as well as widely feted American commentators Douglas Coupland or Spike Jonze. It’s as horrible, dull and funny as life, and, unless this was some wild one off fluke – the first missive from an artist you need to know. 

Beverly is available through Drawn & Quarterly now – find out more on their website