Graphic Novel Review: The Dreg

Autumn is a time of plenty, a time of harvest when food and drink is hearty and warm. During this time of year it’s hard not to dream of spending time with friends and family while feasting and laughing as a community. In the four-issue limited series The Dregs, writers Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, team-up with illustrator Eric Zawadzki and colourist Dee Cunniffe to tell a very different kind of story, one of homelessness and addiction, but centred around community and sustenance just the same.

 The Dregs follows Arnold, a homeless addict living in the east side of downtown Vancouver, who discovers that a friend, and member of his street community, has disappeared overnight. What follows is a unique detective story that highlights the somber beauty of life on the street, the escapist delirium of drug addition, and the bitterness of running from who you are while searching for someone else.

 In The Dregs, Nadler and Thompson offer a heart-wrenching take on the unreliable narrator, while exploring issues of homelessness and addiction with thoughtfulness and compassion. At no point in the story does The Dregs seem exploitative; the addition of a photo series documenting leisure activities of those living in poverty, titled Off Hours with photos by Thanh Nguyen, gives the series an air of authenticity.

 Artist Eric Zawadzki also brings a sense of realism to the story with depictions of Vancouver that are pulled right from the city’s streets themselves. On top of his architectural accuracy, Zawadzki uses the comic’s medium with boundary pushing artistry. Zawadzki’s art left me questioning how the dissection of images and the fluidity of storytelling can create a sense of voyeurism and disorientation simultaneously. Zawadzki’s covers, in particular, are delectable and Cunniffe’s colours are palatable in their simplicity. 

 Part social commentary, part pulp noir, part body horror creep fest – did I forget to mention the cannibalism? – The Dregs tells the story of urban expansion, societal prejudices, and the human condition with a voice which is completely unique. Their first foray into the comics medium, Nadler and Thompson’s critically acclaimed The Dregs is undeniably brilliant.