Acting Class

Writer / Artist
Acting Class
Acting Class graphic novel review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Granta - 978-1-78378-839-2
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Drawn and Quarterly - 978-1-77046-492-6
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781783788392
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Slice of Life

After the universal praise heaped on Sabrina, there was considerable anticipation for Nick Drnaso’s next graphic novel, and one wonders if he felt the pressure when producing Acting Class or just zoned it all out and kept true to his inclinations. This being Drnaso’s third graphic novel, common themes are now established, and this is another look at alienation, isolation and social awkwardness in modern suburbia with a side dish examining aspects of truth. It’s explored by a group of people who sign up for an acting class, each of them introduced beforehand in vignettes expressing the type of people they are and laying bare their insecurities.

Contrasting the remainder of the cast, John Smith who takes the acting class is energetic, exuding confidence and interacting easily, and he’s key to the entire story. His methods will seem obvious to some readers, perhaps even fraudulent, yet to the isolated and unsure they’re inspirational, something they can apply to work or take home. Improvisation and role play are the basis of the class, but prolonged sessions with assigned characters are both blessing and curse for readers. The isolated individuals discover more about themselves, so they’re fundamental, yet also page after page of deliberate and puzzling ambiguity as readers are never certain where the line is drawn between character and reality.

The art is precise, extending to the way people are posed, but it’s kept drab to reflect the personalities. Perhaps that’s also the thinking between facial features being similar on everyone, but because they’re not distinct it can be difficult telling people apart in an already complicated, layered story, especially toward the end. In other aspects there’s an audaciousness to art that transforms mundane locations into shocking stages.

As the cast learn acting techniques they construct scenes from their own experiences, at which point truth becomes almost an abstract concept as the lines between the constructed scenes and actual experiences blur. The clash of fantasy and reality is most obvious with April, whose boss is a rare character not connected to the acting group, and has practicalities on her plate that don’t allow for an extended absence. However, with the main cast it’s frequently unclear whether we’re seeing their imaginations let loose or being given glimpses behind the curtain, and this gradually becomes more and more unsettling, as more doors kick open.

Despite the achievement of carrying such a large cast over 250 pages, there are places where Drnaso may lose readers as logic dissipates and wandering in constructed dreams prevails. There’s an explanation of sorts at the end if required, and it’ll be polarising, a Bobby waking up in the shower incident, yet it’s true to themes explored. Ultimately, though, while there’s undeniable brilliance in places and it’s mesmerising in others, Acting Class is also over-extended and unsatisfying if you can’t implicitly believe in why anyone would place so much faith in John.