Thursday, June 14, 2007

Just Read: Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

This, according to the back of the galley I read, is Tomine's "first long-form graphic novel," and is coming out in October. It seems to be a reprint of a three-issue storyline, presumably from Tomine's comic Optic Nerve, but, as far as I know, it is Tomine's longest story to date.

As usual with Tomine, it's a closely-observed character piece, framed mostly in the medium distance in very square-looking panels that never quite fall into a nine-panel grid but always seem on the verge of doing so. His art is mostly realistic, only very slightly cartoony, and almost disappears as you read it -- his style never calls attention to itself.

The story itself is very mundane, as usual for Tomine -- he's the comics equivalent of Raymond Carver, I guess. The main character is an Asian man in his mid-20s living in a West Coast city (I thought it was specified, but I can't find the reference right now), drifting through life and trying to deny he's obsessed with the idea of sleeping with a Caucasian woman. He's much more obnoxious and grumpy than a genre reader (of fiction or comics) would expect from a main character, and it's not entirely clear from the ending whether he's actually learned anything -- in short, this is a literary comic, and it succeeds very well in that arena.

I intellectually like Tomine's work a lot, but it doesn't connect with me viscerally with me the way I keep hoping it will -- the way somewhat similar stories by Peter Bagge (in a vastly different art style, of course) did, or that stories with similar emotional registers by the Hernandez brothers or Andi Watson do. This may be deliberate -- there's something cold and detached about Tomine's work, along the lines of a more down-to-earth Dan Clowes -- but I'm not sure.

Lastly, I read this as a bound galley, which I picked up at BEA -- and the fact that a major graphic novel had a BEA giveaway advance edition is good news for comics (and, I think, for the book world at large). I hope Shortcomings does get into regular bookstores, and that literary fiction readers discover it there -- a big chunk of the potential audience for this book is among people who don't know yet that they'd like to read a "comic book"...

1 comment:

Tim Pratt said...

Yeah, the story first appeared in Optic Nerve. I read it in the original comics form, with a wait of about a year between issues.

It takes place mostly in the East Bay, in Berkeley and Oakland (some of the locations, occasionally with slightly disguised names, are places I frequent, actually).

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