Adrian Tomine on Scenes from an Impending Marriage (His!)

The Thought Fox    |    Simon Appleby    |    April 29, 2011

One of my first buys as an acquiring editor was Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli’s great adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass. We (re)published this book in 2005, along with Picador in the US, and it’s done well ever since. It wasn’t part of a plan to pursue a line in graphic novels, but when we subsequently had the opportunity to publish the brilliant Adrian Tomine, it was too good to turn down, and I soon found out that there were, like me, a number of fans of his work in house here at Faber.

So, after the rapturously received Shortcomings (2007) – published simultaneously with his long-term North American publisher Drawn & Quarterly – we brought out two of his backlist collections, Sleepwalk (2008) and Summer Blonde (2009) for the first time in the UK. This month, and just in time for a certain ‘Wedding’ (although not by design), we publish Scenes from an Impending Marriage. Already excerpted in the Guardian, and something of a gear change for Adrian, it documents his impending marriage in a uniquely funny and (mostly) sweet-natured way.

To mark publication, I asked those fellow fans at Faber to help put Adrian in the hotseat …
Silvia in Marketing asks …

Scenes … was put together for a very personal purpose. Did you think you would end up publishing it while you were writing it? And do you find it a more nerve-wracking experience releasing something so overtly autobiographical?

A.T.: I honestly thought it would be read by the friends and family members at our wedding, and that would be the end of it. I don’t think this book would exist if I was given the task to create it for publication. And yes, I did have to consider a number of things that normally wouldn’t apply to the publication of my fiction. My main concern – and one of the things I edited between the original version and the Faber edition – was making sure we didn’t get sued. The wedding industry can be extremely competitive, and I didn’t want any of the vendors that I depict in the book accusing me of adversely affecting their business! So a lot of those names and depictions were altered between versions of the book. And yes, that means that I did invent the name ‘DJ Buttercream’.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage #1
Hannah in Editorial asks …

One of my favourite sections in the book is the ‘Guest List’ sketch, has the book caused offence to any ‘friends’ since publication? How well did you disguise the names? Did you use real names and scrawl through to erase them or just invented ones?

A.T.: One friend of mine said that he actually studied those panels closely to see if he could make out the real names beneath the scratch marks. The truth is, that strip, along with pretty much the rest of the book, is basically a simplification or distillation of any real conversation that might’ve transpired. I’d like to point out that the bit about me not inviting someone because they didn’t respond to my previous book is a total fabrication, only written for comedic effect!
Andrew in Sales (who is about to get married) asks …

With reference to the running/getting fit panels: How many weeks before/after the wedding did the nonsense end? And were the dance lessons a waste of time?

A.T.: Without getting too specific, I will say that, contrary to the recurring gag in the book, some of that nonsense did not end the minute I got married. And no, the dance lessons were totally worth it. Unless you’re a naturally good dancer, then I’d recommend it whole-heartedly. As much as the idea of dance lessons might horrify you, just think about being forever haunted by video footage of yourself flailing around on the dance floor, not knowing what to do with your hands, stepping on the bride’s toes, etc. etc. Even though I had the lessons, I was still a terrible dancer, but at least that fear of not knowing what to do was taken away, and that was a relief.
Angus (yours truly) in Editorial asks …

Have you had any good letters from fans yet, in response to this publication? (Anyone telling you you’ve ‘sold out’?!)

A.T.: Not letters, but there has been some disgruntled responses to this book from long-term readers of my work, both in person and online. There’s a certain type of fan (not just of comics), who basically wants their favourite artists to stay the same, and to continue to just refine or improve upon the same thing they’ve always done, and some of these types of readers did not appreciate the change in style and tone of this book. And there are some people who’ve made it clear that they just dislike or aren’t at all interested in the topic of weddings and marriage, which I totally understand. I’m very up front with people: this is not a ‘graphic novel’ and it’s not for everyone. On the other hand, I felt like it was very important that the book I put out after Shortcomings be something rather different, and this certainly fits the bill.

[Angus again]: An early issue of Optic Nerve had a great list of albums you listened to while working on it (Pixies, Stone Roses etc). Is music still important to you, and was there anything particular on the Tomine turntable as you worked on this?

A.T.: Music is still important to me, but I’m not nearly the connoisseur/consumer of current music that I was in my teens and twenties. I still stumble upon new-ish bands that I get excited about every once in awhile, but for the most part, my interest in the latest hip thing has kind of dissipated. I left my fancy turntable in storage when I moved to New York, and now I basically just have an iPod and a laptop plugged into speakers in my studio. And I’m usually listening to classical music. To my younger self: I apologize.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage #2
Ruth in Editorial asks …

How did your design work for The New Yorker come about? Has your style developed or adapted since taking it on? Is it different to the way you’ve worked on your own art?

A.T.: Most of the illustration work I’ve done over the years has kind of fallen into my lap, mainly as a result of someone seeing my comics work. But The New Yorker is the one job that I actively pursued. I put together a portfolio, looked up their address in the phone book, and dropped my samples off in person. It’s a very different working process than my own comics work in that it’s a collaboration between me and at least one other person at the magazine. There’s a fair amount of back and forth, and sometimes I’m asked to make changes I wouldn’t have thought of. I’ve actually developed a pretty close working relationship with a couple of people there, and I really value their input, suggestions, and guidance. It’s a nice counterbalance to my comics work, where I’m totally on my own.
Angus again …

I imagine you’re approached to do commissions quite often, and probably turn a lot down, is there anything you really hate being asked to do?

A.T.: I’m not a big fan of the ‘theme sketchbook’. If you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, it’s where a person brings a blank sketchbook to a comics convention or book signing, and goes around asking for free drawings of their particular favorite subject. Sometimes it’s a certain superhero that I have no idea how to draw, and sometimes it’s something so specific and weird – like a guy falling off a cliff – that it’s just a chore. And the worst innovation to this tradition is that now the drawings (which are invariably not very good) are often scanned and posted on the internet for everyone to see!

This new book has also brought out a lot of requests to ‘make the same kind of book, only for OUR wedding’. It’s tough to decline because some people get very emotional about anything related to their wedding, and can’t stand the idea of anything not working out exactly as they want.
Silvia again …

Am I right in thinking you call yourself a cartoonist rather than a graphic novelist? And how is it that non-fiction graphic works are always called graphic novels?

A.T.: I’m pretty sure I’ve never referred to myself as a ‘graphic novelist’. And if I do, please come and put me out of my pretentious misery. Obviously there’s flaws with the term ‘graphic novel’, especially, as you point out, when most of the books in question are not at all novels. But what can I do? The term, for better or worse, seems to have stuck, and if the world finds it more respectable than ‘comic books’, who am I to argue?
Kate in Publicity asks …

Can you remember when you drew your first cartoon/strip, as such, and what it was? And can you remember first knowing that it was what you wanted to do?

A.T.: I think I first started drawing things that resembled comic strips when I was about six. They weren’t divided up into panels, but they were meant to be sequential images on the same page. So, in other words, I’d draw a bunch of images of the same crude figures on one page, and I was attempting to tell some kind of little story. Usually, it was something along the lines of: this guy punches that guy, then that guy punches him back. Most of my drawings from that time were very science fiction-based … probably inspired by Star Wars and Japanese animation. I think by the time I was in third or fourth grade, I was pretty determined to be a cartoonist when I grew up, although my vision of that at the time was a lot more like a real job: going into an office, drawing alongside a bunch of other artists, etc.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage #3
Ian in the Faber Academy asks …

In third-person (no-picture) fiction, the author’s voice can always be heard separately to the voices of the characters – sometimes even to the detriment of the work. Do you feel that graphic novelists have an authorial voice? Do the same rules of fiction apply?

A.T.: Wow, these are a couple of big questions; probably too big for me to properly answer here. I think, if anything, the authorial voice is more pronounced in comics, if only because every mark on the page is made by the author’s hand. I think it might be a bit easier for a prose author to recede from the reader’s thoughts due to the mechanical and often unobtrusive nature of typesetting. But like many qualities of cartooning, I see this as a particular advantage, or a positive quality. I love the fact that even though all of the characters in the Peanuts strip are very much individual and ‘alive’, I’m still always ‘hearing’, in a sense, the voice of Charles Schulz.
Angus again …

Can you tell us anything about the new book? Will it publish as issues of Optic Nerve first, as usual (and, if so, when!)?

A.T.: I can’t say too much right now, only because a lot of it is still in progress or unknown even to me. It’ll be a collection of very loosely-linked short stories, and it will be in colour. I’m approaching each story as a chance to work in a different manner, which is liberating for me, and will, I hope, create some interesting variation within the book. And because I’m pathologically afraid of change, it will be published in the same manner as I’ve always worked: first in the form of several comic books, and then as a book. The first comic book (Optic Nerve 12, for those keeping track), is scheduled to be published at the end of the summer by Drawn & Quarterly.
And finally, Silvia asks …

In classic comic book tradition, who would win in a fight between you and your wife?

A.T.: I guess it depends on if you mean a physical or verbal fight. Scratch that … she’d win either way.

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