Monday, September 24, 2007

The cartoonist novelists like to read.

Junot Diaz provides this signature starred review of Shortcomings in this week's Publishers Weekly. Quite simply, it's awesome.

Tomine's lacerating falling-out-of-love story is an irresistible gem of a graphic novel. Shortcomings is set primarily in an almost otherworldly San Francisco Bay Area; its antihero, Ben Tanaka, is not your average comic book protagonist: he's crabby, negative, self-absorbed, über-critical, slack-a-riffic and for someone who is strenuously “race-blind,” has a pernicious hankering for whitegirls.

His girlfriend Miko (alas and tragically) is an Asian-American community activist of the moderate variety. Ben is the sort of cat who walks into a Korean wedding and says, “Man, look at all these Asians,” while Miko programs Asian-American independent films and both are equally skilled in the underhanded art of “fighting without fighting.” As you might imagine, their relationship is in full decay. In Tomine's apt hands, Tanaka's heartbreaking descent into awareness is reading as good as you'll find anywhere. What a relief to find such unprecious intelligent dynamic young people of color wrestling with real issues that they can neither escape nor hope completely to understand.

Tomine's no dummy: he keeps the “issues” secondary to his characters' messy humanity and gains incredible thematic resonance from this subordination. Tomine's dialogue is hilarious (he makes Seth Rogan seem a little forced), his secondary characters knockouts (Ben's Korean-American “only friend” Alice steals every scene she's in, and the Korean wedding they attend together as pretend-partners is a study in the even blending of tragedy and farce), and his dramatic instincts second-to-none.

Besides orchestrating a gripping kick-ass story with people who feel like you've had the pleasure/misfortune of rooming with, Tomine does something far more valuable: almost incidentally and without visible effort (for such is the strength of a true artist) he explodes the tottering myth that love is blind and from its million phony fragments assembles a compelling meditation on the role of race in the romantic economy, dramatizing with evil clarity how we are both utterly blind and cannily hyperaware of the immense invisible power race exerts in shaping what we call “desire.”

And that moment at the end when the whiteboy squares up against Ben, kung-fu style: I couldn't decide whether to fold over in laughter or to hug Ben or both. Tomine accomplishes in one panel of this graphic novel what so many writers have failed to do in entire books. In crisp spare lines, he captures in all its excruciating, disappointing absurdity a single moment and makes from it our world. (Oct.)

Junot Díaz's first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has just been published by Riverhead.

Amazon Spotlights Shortcomings

Amazon predicts that by December 2007, Adrian will be very close to being a "household name," I like the sound of that.

Grisham, Sebold, Tomine in EW

Entertainment Weekly's Fall Preview issues spotlights some of this season's big books including Shortcomings. It's the issue with Britney on the cover.

UK love for Adrian

Esteemed UK publisher Faber & Faber, the home of T.S. Eliot and one of the last independent presses in London, is the UK publisher of Shortcomings, Summer Blonde and Sleepwalk. Adrian, as I understand it, is the first cartoonist for whom the house actively acquired rights for frontlist and backlist. The deal was even noted in the NY Times.

Now, the UK press is breaking...

"Shortcomings is a rare book - not only one of the year's finest comics,
but also one of its finest works of fiction."–Guardian Online


"Tomine’s ear for dialogue and the subtleties of his artwork are both excellent, managing to make an intensive study of Ben’s wallowing without making us resent his self-involvement."–BBC

"[Shortcomings]the feel of an arthouse movie - beautifully captures the nuances of intimacy, especially the deafening silences that punctuate uncomfortable conversations."–Danny Graydon, First Post

"Shortcomings is a novel that restores a sense of humanity to people who are otherwise consistently stereotyped...All in all, a rich and effortlessly touching treasure.–New Statesman

And Media Circus plays a word association game with Adrian.

Shortcomings Advances at Brooklyn Book Festival


D+Q publisher Chris Oliveros headed down to NYC a few weekends ago armed with some advances of Shortcomings which went like hotcakes at the Brooklyn Book Festival. GalleyCat noted his signing and posted this pic.

Adrian Nominated for an Ignatz

Optic Nerve #11 is nominated for Outstanding Comic to be awarded in two weeks at the small press fest in Bethesda, SPX.

Venus Mag Reviews SHORTCOMINGS

Check out the issue of Venus Mag that is on stands now (M.I.A. is on the cover) where the reviewer states "[Shortcomings] is eye candy with a subversive soul."

On Stands Now


Adrian provides the gorgeous original cover art to the new Giant Robot (issue 49), on stands now. He is also the subject of a six-page feature inside the magazine. GRNY will host an art opening by Adrian this December, so start saving your money.

Shout Out to the City of Angels


This summer, the L.A. Weekly contacted me to excerpt Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings. I said yes right away. Why? I'm hard pressed to name another city with as many comic stores and comic friendly bookstores. Sure, there are other cities with great stores, but collectively? Ok, I'm bound to forget one, but let's try in alphabetical order: Booksoup, Duttons, Family, Giant Robot, Golden Apple, Hammer, Hi De Ho, House of Secrets, Meltdown, Secret Headquarters, Skylight Books, Third Planet, Vromans, and...?

The excerpt kindly states: "His crisp, almost gestural line work is both modern and retro, and each painstakingly composed individual panel comes across like a scene from a movie. It's pure story done in a pure style..."

Talk about resonating with the reader

I like the sound of

"Art Spiegelman-like fame," more love from Wired.

Random Blog Posts About Adrian

Adrian gets the best blog posts on the internet. Here's a few: The Procrastinator picked up a Shortcomings galley at BEA, Laboratorium dissects Adrian's New Yorker cover, and my favorite The Black Apple

Adrian & D+Q on Myspace..and Joe Matt

Well, if you're checking out this blog, you're already ahead of the game. We would love it, though, if you wanted to be our friends on myspace....here are our profiles: Adrian, D+Q and while you're there don't forget our dear friend Joe Matt.

Making my job easy

I love it when one review is picked up in two places, especially when those two places are outlests as big as The Los Angeles Times and Newsday. Reviewer Peter Terzian provides the following review:

'Shortcomings' by Adrian Tomine
A graphic novel takes a literary look at issues of race, gender and alienation.
By Peter Terzian
September 2, 2007


There's nothing frenzied or fanciful about the comics that Adrian Tomine has created over his 16-year career. Most of them first appeared in "Optic Nerve," his yearly-or-so pamphlet series published by Drawn & Quarterly. A restrained draftsman, Tomine renders in meticulous detail the apartment interiors, coffee shops and movie theaters his vicenarians characters inhabit. "Optic Nerve's" antecedents might be the "Love & Rockets" comics of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez and such down-market "realistic" newspaper strips as "Apartment 3-G." Tomine's people are drawn so as to look like real people, more or less. One of the many pleasures of reading him is the thrill of recognition -- he can precisely capture complex facial expressions that reveal a world of feeling. Tomine's work may not have the eye-popping visual imaginativeness of such recent comics masterpieces as Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan" or Charles Burns' "Black Hole" or French artist David B.'s "Epileptic." But his aesthetic is as fully realized and his plots are more emotionally satisfying.

Tomine's realism has earned him comparisons to such respected prose writers as Alice Munro and Raymond Carver. That may be something of a slight to the comics medium, the implication being that his work rises to the level of a higher art form. But it's not untrue -- Tomine has a degree in English literature from UC Berkeley, and like much contemporary short fiction, his "Optic Nerve" stories have dealt with romantic and familial relationships. He emphasizes conversational dialogue and favors open endings. His facility with narrative came to fruition in four long character studies published in "Optic Nerve" from 1998 to 2001, which were collected in 2002 in the book "Summer Blonde." Each follows a loner or misfit, such as Hillary, a depressed young Chinese American who makes crank calls to the pay phone under her apartment window, or awkward but well-meaning Neil, whose crush on a girl working at a local card shop turns obsessive and inadvertently sabotages her life. Tomine's antiheroes may be messy, intractable or self-destructive, but he's never less than wholly sympathetic to their plights.

After a career of composing the comics equivalent of short stories, Tomine has produced, in "Shortcomings," his first full-length graphic novel. It was serialized in issues of "Optic Nerve." Ben Tanaka, the novel's 29-year-old Japanese American protagonist, is, like many Tomine characters, cynical and petulant -- a pill. In the opening scene, he grumps his way through an Asian American film festival screening that his girlfriend, Miko, has helped to organize. (Tomine is a gentle but unerring satirist; each chapter opens with the skewering of some fashionable art form, including performance art and the American Apparel chain's advertising photography.) Sometime later, at home in Berkeley, Miko finds DVDs of white "all-girl action" porn in Ben's desk. "It's like you're obsessed with the typical Western media beauty ideal, but you're settling for me," she tells him accusingly. Their relationship frays further when Miko leaves California for a four-month internship in New York and Ben becomes distracted by Autumn, a cute young blond he's hired at the movie theater he manages.

Tomine achieved a mature visual style around 1998, with the first of the comics included in "Summer Blonde," and his line work hasn't changed much since then. That's not a criticism; most comics artists find a style and stick to it. His challenge may be to find ways of evolving within the naturalistic parameters that he's set for himself.

On a narrative level, "Shortcomings" is a leap forward. Tomine, who is remarkably sensitive to the lives of the women who populate his stories, surrounds Ben with an almost exclusively female cast, one of whom is his most immediately likable character to date. Alice Kim is a young lesbian who is Ben's best (and only) friend and foil. She's a scamp ("My goal is to at least make out with a hundred girls by the time I get my Ph.D.") with a smart mouth that can land her in trouble: She gets suspended from school for threatening to kick a fellow student in the privates. Unlike Ben, Alice has a talent for landing on her feet. She too moves to New York, where she finds romantic success and makes a discovery that brings Ben east and to a series of revelations about Miko.

"Shortcomings" is also the first of Tomine's comics to address race. His characters are perplexed when their sexual longings stray across racial and gender lines and cause confusion or pain. "Tell me you don't agree that when you see a white guy with an Asian girl, it has certain . . . connotations," Ben argues. Meredith, Alice's kindly New York girlfriend, responds: "And when you see an Asian guy with a white girl, you think?"

"Good for him!" Ben counters. "Good for both of them!"

When Meredith asks Ben whether his fetish for white women is "a sublimated form of assimilation," he answers, "You don't have to turn this into a personal attack on me!" Tomine's virtue is that he doesn't have an ax to grind. His approach is playful, letting his characters talk themselves in circles and follow their desires to their logical, heartbreaking conclusions. *


Peter Terzian is a writer and critic based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Boldtype Comics Issue Reviews Shortcomings

Newsarama Reviews Shortcomings

Library Journal Reviews Shortcomings

Tomine, Adrian. Shortcomings. Drawn & Quarterly. Oct. 2007. 104p. ISBN 978-1-897299-16-6. $19.95. F

The Asian American film festival was a bore, and it seems that anything Asian is an aversion for twenty-something Ben Tanaka, a directionless, negative, and highly defensive movie theater manager residing in the Bay Area. Of course, Ben refuses to acknowledge his attraction to all things non-Asian, especially blonde girls, which his Asian girlfriend finds so apparent in his wandering eye and choice of Sapphic Sorority DVDs. Ben is finally forced to deal with his conflicting leanings and Japanese heritage when his girlfriend leaves for New York to attend film school. Alone, he searches for new girlfriends and conducts café chats with Alice, his lesbian friend. Yet his old obsessions motivate him the most. Tomine’s first full-length graphic novel (originally serialized in Optic Nerve) is a subtle and restrained real-life drama that confronts racial and sexual norms. The racial identity of the characters is ostensibly represented by their hair color, and Tomine’s realistic black-and-white artwork further suggests this symbolism by drawing the focus there. His use of facial expression and command of dialog keep the reader engaged in this character study; the story line itself is rather conventional and feels familiar. A few panels of frontal nudity and instances of language, plus the more adult subject matter, make it more suitable for older teens on up. Shortcomings would be a credit to any graphic novel collection.—David Garza, AWBERC Lib. U.S. EPA, Cincinnati

Hometown Love For Adrian

Comics Reporter checks in with Adrian.

Adrian Talks To Newsarama

Just Another Day: Adrian Tomine and Julianne Moore Sighting

Wired.com Weighs In On Optic Nerve

Wizard Magazine Interviews Adrian Tomine