THE past is a perfume. Now and then you catch the scent and it takes you back.

On page 103 of Chris Reynolds’s The New World (New York Review Comics, £24.99) there is a strip called In and Out of the Sun.

One page. Four panels. It tracks a car moving through a landscape in four snapshots. Sunlight on fields, shadowed hills, a lorry in front, washing on a line.

Each panel has a line of text.

“In and out of the sun.”

“The sunlight roars across the fields towards me.”

“All those old hills.”

“Where were you when we were both children?”

I first read that strip three decades ago and can still recall how it hit me; something about the way the light came in, the sense of someone saying something I wanted to say but couldn’t articulate.

Today I read it again and it left me dizzy once more. Dizzy and drowning in memories.

I remember sunlight on closed eyelids on a beach in Northern Ireland, the Atlantic surge and retreat drumming in my ears. I remember shadows on a wall in Stirling. I remember snow falling and falling on a silent night, Betty Blue playing on the TV unwatched.

I remember moments of no importance to anyone but myself that echo and echo, that I want to pick up and touch one more time.

And I remember the rustle of paper and reading a comic book in a room in Stirling in the late 1980s, a comic book that was heavy with the feeling of just those kind of moments.

Back in the mid-1980s Chris Reynolds and Paul Harvey published a small independent publication called Mauretania Comics. It became home to Reynolds’s strange, slightly sci-fi strips containing aliens, detectives, secret organisations and industrial architecture.

But it isn’t the B movie tropes that linger. It is the scent of the stories. Their withdrawn quietness, the way they held onto their own secrets, the sense of mystery never resolved.

When I first read them they felt like a retreat from the world. There was a lot to retreat from back then, of course, most notably a sense of powerlessness in the face of the Thatcherite now.

But today, reading these strips again in a gorgeous new edition printed on heavy paper and designed immaculately by Canadian cartoonist Seth, I remembered what I loved about them.

It’s because they are about the impossible desire to hold onto what life takes away from us. These are stories about time and place and about how we can’t really grasp either.

These are also dream narratives. In the first story, The Dial, Reg comes back from the war to his parent’s house which is empty but intact. But every time he leaves the house and returns it appears increasingly damaged until it is nothing but ruins.

And then he comes back again to find it whole and his parents inside.

It’s no surprise that a cartoonist like Seth, whose work also throbs with bittersweet nostalgia, should like Reynolds’s work.

But where Seth is all New Yorker style and fine lines, Reynolds’s thick-lined black and white art could never be called slick. His character work might seem to some crude and static. His evocations of place are precise yet often quite simple.

And yet you can feel the stillness breathing as you turn the page. You can smell it.

What is this all about? It’s about the ache of time passing. Reynolds attempts to pin that feeling to the page. More often that not, he succeeds. That is why this book is remarkable.

There is nothing crude nor static about the art of Nick Hayes, whose latest work The Drunken Sailor (Jonathan Cape, £20) tells the story of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud through his own words. A grown-up picture book, it contains gay orgies, opium dreams, the violence of war, and medical dismememberment.

Hayes’s green-filtered, stylised illustrations have a breathtaking punch to them at times (look out for the octopus. It is, quite frankly, magnificent). But if you aren’t familiar with Rimbaud’s biography you might feel, like me, a little lost at times. That said, there are worse places to be lost than amidst Hayes’s remarkable line work.

Alone (Faber, £15.99), the latest graphic novel from French artist Chaboute, is another graphic novel where the art overshadows story. But, here, that’s more problematic.

The story first. A new worker on a fishing boat is confused as to why his boss makes regular trips to drop supplies off at a tiny island that supports a lighthouse.

The reason is a lonely hermit who lives on the island; who has never left it, in fact, and whose ideas of the outside world are drawn from the only book he owns, a dictionary.

But then the modern world – in the shape of a celebrity magazine and photographs supplied by the new boatman – begin to alter the hermit’s notions of the outside world. His imagination, inevitably wonky, spins out across page after page.

The result is beautiful. The slow steady pace of the art is a thrill and Chaboute is a wonderfully muscular draughtsman.

But I’m not sure that’s enough in the circumstances.

My problem is I didn’t really believe any of it. Our hermit’s idea of the outside world is off-kilter, but not really off-kilter enough for someone who has no experience of what it might look like.

He imagines musical instruments never, we assume, having seen one and in his imagination they look like … Well, musical instruments, albeit musical instruments with holes and keys where there shouldn’t be.

In short, his vision of what is out there in the world turns out to be slightly wrong when, really, it should surely be incomprehensible.

All of which is a pity. Because the craft on show here is quite something.

Enough disappointment. You will have to wait until next month before you can read Nick Drnaso’s graphic novel Sabrina (Granta, £16.99, June 7). But it’s worth the wait.

On the cover there’s a sticker with a puff quote from no less than Zadie Smith. It consists of two words. “A masterpiece.”

That’s a big claim. But you can’t fault the book’s ambition. Drnaso brings his ice-cold take on the clean line school of comics to bear on a potent, provocative story that starts with a missing girl (the Sabrina of the title) and spirals out to encompass the toxicity of social media and conspiracy theorists and a culture that is drowning in snark and anger.

There are some small qualms. Email messages depicted in white panels full of text niggles slightly; the density of words tripping you up when so much else that Drnaso does is so brilliantly spare.

But it’s a minor detail. The truth is Sabrina has novelistic depth and reach.

It feels very of the moment of course. (Is this the first graphic novel of the Trump era?) And yet it is also attuned to the mysteries of the human heart.

And if it casts a cold eye over the way we live now, there’s heart to it too, bruised and bloody but still beating.

The more I think about it the more I think Zadie has it right.