cover image In: A Graphic Novel

In: A Graphic Novel

Will McPhail. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-358-34554-1

Though snarkier and smuttier than E.M. Forster, New Yorker cartoonist McPhail’s graphic novel debut comes across as a book-length illustrated version of the Howard’s End epigraph: “Only connect!” Nick is an artist whose cringey awkwardness and roiling inner monologues (“Is this what human interaction is?”) block him from forming relationships. He compensates with personas, such as posing as a sad young artist sketching women on the train (until he discovers they find it creepy rather than cute). Even a joyful-seeming one-night stand with brash young doctor Wren is drawn in a one-page vignette as a kind of theater (with curtains and stage) to demonstrate Nick’s disconnection (“I didn’t feel anything and performed every emotion”). The narrative takes an unexpected turn when Nick suddenly decides to say something personal in a glorious scene that mixes the rapturous (a montage of fantastical lush color frames in this cool and restrained black-and-white book) with the comical (the man he’s connecting with is his plumber). But though Nick’s arc toward authenticity is well rendered, it’s too easily won, with a world willing to accommodate him the second he opens up and a convenient manic-pixie love interest. This smart if somewhat uneven character study bangs together insecure urban hipster humor with raw emotion. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (May)