In his breakout graphic novel, New Yorker cartoonist Will McPhail charts a millennial’s ungainly journey toward emotional connection.
With generous wit and mostly black-and-white drawings, In follows Nick, an artist trapped in a cycle of hollow conversations and extra-milky lattes. As the book opens, Nick goes to a bar alone because if he were sad—which he isn’t—that is what a sad man would do. His feelings are just out of reach, as if on the tip of his tongue. Real human interactions likewise feel imminent but elusive, unlockable only with the right words.
When Nick does succeed in making a connection, these moments of emotional disorientation erupt with color. Splashes of crumbling landscapes, towering edifices and bizarrely cute flesh-eating monsters illuminate the pages like fever dreams. Here, the narrative power of images speaks for itself.
In has echoes of the 2012 black-and-white film A Coffee in Berlin and Ben Lerner’s many disaffected “lost boys of privilege.” That In is semiautobiographical lends both tenderness and a self-implicating edge to McPhail’s lampooning of the “woke millennial hipster.” The watering holes Nick frequents (albeit with scorn) have whimsical names like Gentrificchiato and Your Friends Have Kids Bar, and are “managed/haunted by a collection of Timothees Chalamet.” McPhail suggests a playful dichotomy in which you are either a person who posts up in coffee shops or are emotionally well. If you’re feeling attacked, or if you’re Timothée Chalamet, please read on.
The characters in In are absolutely delightful. The moment Nick stops berating himself for his inadequacies, the baton for that task is snatched up by his mother, sister, neighbors, 4-year-old nephew and romantic interest, Wren, who is an especially well-developed character. She is an oncologist and, like Nick, a normcore clothing devotee who enjoys drawing unmentionables in Nick’s Moleskine notebook.
When Wren becomes unexpectedly entangled in Nick’s family life, he is confronted once again with an opportunity to be in—that is, to be vulnerable. And when small talk becomes real talk, the world suddenly seems all that much brighter.