Nick Drnaso’s Acting Class treats human connection from the other direction. The book is a large-format, hardback graphic novel set in contemporary America, looking at issues of alienation in modern society.
The set-up is pretty simple, a disparate collection of frustrated and disillusioned characters join a somewhat sketchy amateur acting class run by a mysterious teacher called John Smith in a local community centre. They are all social misfits, and the promise of newfound confidence drives them to look both inwards and outwards in Smith’s increasingly erratic and challenging classes.
Drnaso’s drawing style is deliberately blank and his colour palette muted, lending a deadpan atmosphere to his drawn-out scenes, something that smartly underpins the possibly transformative experiences of his characters. He switches between reality and fantasy as the lessons become more involved, and the students blur the lines about who they are and how they interact with the world.
The classes become more extreme, and the teacher’s motivations gradually reveal themselves, but Drnaso doesn’t draw obvious conclusions. Is this little more than a cult, preying on the vulnerable in society, or are the students really able to bring about the confident change in their lives as promised? It’s dark and disturbing stuff at times as the students explore their innermost fears and worries, but it’s a powerful story that takes in self-discovery, community and exploitation.
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