Get In to In. Get INvolved. Nick is trying to find his way In to life. Into his life. I pick graphic books for their looks. Or often leave them on the shelf, if the art doesn’t appeal. In “In” the art appealed. The cover has Nick mostly in a blank space. He is tentatively peering through a door that is filled with deep green, tropical foliage.
Maybe the art here draws you in more than the story. But the story has power too. It’s about how a man who can’t connect with the world. A man who needs the women in his life to break through his performance as a sad lonely artist in coffee shops. It’s an act, but it has become who he is, and he can’t connect.
Throughout the book, Nick visits coffee shops and bars where he interacts with the bartenders and baristas. The first place he enters is Graham’s Bar. It’s empty. In his head, he begs the barman to ask, “Rough day?” And the barman does. Then Nick asks, “If I were a sad man, what would I drink.” “That’s a Russian Imperial Milk Stout.”
Wren arrives. She’s waiting for her date, but she starts a conversation with Nick. She has a sense of humour. His characters, mumbles, “I guess I’m…” He begs himself to “Stay in character.” Wren replies, “You’re not sad.” Nick stares for a moment, then says, “O.K.” And her date arrives. He is served another milk stout, “from the girl.”
He’s trying to find a world beyond the white and grey of his life. Where he acts sad and lonely, where he is sad and lonely, where he never figures out what to say.
His mother is decorating a derelict house. He helps her paint the architraves. Her focus in on the details, while the building crumbles.
He visits a variety of trendy coffee shops: Gentrificchiato, where there are “twelve varieties of milk, nary one from an udder.” Twill and Sons, where you are supposed to pay by barter, but they take Apple Pay too. There’s Artisanal Kick in the Back, where they charge by the number of pages you write.
On his way home, from a day in at the coffee-face, Nick is called out for drawing a woman on the subway without her permission, The woman walks off. Wren appears on the same train. They connect and sleep together. She is the perfect foil for him. She sees through his pose. She plays his game but seems to take him as he is behind the façade.
The coffee shops start to comment on the story, in the cold ironic way that the names of certain businesses do in the way the half pun is avoiding wit or location.
Wren’s smile brings colour to Nick’s life in the way several inserted sequences of coloured panels depict Nick’s inner struggles as he climbs crags, wades through rivers, braves waterfalls, and crowds. These are works of art that delve into the emotions that Nick can’t reach until the struggles of his sister to cope with her son, and of his mother constantly trying to decorate the derelict house as she faces pancreatic cancer, and as Wren brings real joy to the moments they have together. Then. He and his sister go visit the doctor with his mother. I could have seen it coming. We know from the beginning that Wren is an oncologist. It turns out to be she is his mother’s consultant. Wren knows she can’t continue treating Nick’s mother, and the narrative speeds up as his mother declines. When she dies—another colour sequence screams regret. And as Nick tells Wren he doesn’t regret her passing but mourns that, “I’ve lost everything that I didn’t get to know about her.” Wren stares. For once speechless. And then the final colour sequence is her on a rooftop. Staring at faceless buildings, before climbing down and walking steadily into deeper and deeper water and ending with her staring at the Greek pillared building with the caduceus, with its staff and two coiled snakes carved into the stone of the pediment.
A somewhat glib story about a young artist who can not figure out how to connect to his community suddenly pulls you in as his sister, his mother, and his maybe idealized lover bring him towards connection and love.