Adrian Tomine interview on Gothamist

Adrian Tomine, Graphic Novelist

Gothamist    |    Jen Carlson     |    June 3, 2009

It's been a while since we last checked in with Brooklynite, cartoonist, illustrator and graphic novelist Adrian Tomine (who you may know best for his ongoing comic series Optic Nerve, or his New Yorker covers). In fact, at the time his new book Shortcomings had just come out, and now it's hitting paperback. He's currently on a book tour with Seth, stopping by the Strand tomorrow night, and the MoCCA festival this weekend. Recently he told us about living in Chris Rock's former apartment and, for you graphic novel newbies, where to start if you're intrigued by the illustrated world.

What influences your illustrations and novels? I was talking to someone recently who announced that they were thinking of trying their hand at fiction writing. I asked, somewhat incredulously, if this was something they knew how to do. And this person responded by saying, "Well, all you do is take a bunch of stuff from your life and change a few names, right?" I do draw on my own experiences and observations for inspiration, but I'd like to think this person was simplifying my creative process quite a bit.

How do you feel about comics and graphic novels becoming feature films—would you ever experiment with that medium? I know there's a lot of comics fans out there who get a big thrill simply from the fact that a comic they love was very faithfully translated into a movie, and I don't quite understand that. I feel like it's a little bit insulting to the comics medium when a film adaptation is viewed as like the ultimate form of validation. I think comics can be the basis for great films, but I think the focus of such a project should be on making the film as good as possible, not on painstakingly replicating the comic.

What are you working on for the future—what's next? I'm working on a new, as-yet-untitled book, which is a collection of inter-related short stories. I can't say much about it at this point, other than that it will be in color, and that it's pretty different from my last book.

Are there any up and coming graphic novelists whose work you're excited about right now? It really is an amazingly great time in terms of emerging talent in the world of comics. It's very humbling and inspiring to see this influx of talent, especially as so much of it seems to be coming from a very diverse range of backgrounds and influences. There's a lot of people in anthologies like Kramers Ergot, Drawn & Quarterly Showcase, and Mome that really impress me. I don't know when it's coming out, but I can't wait for Vanessa Davis' new book. And Jonathan Bennett, who's published some short stories in Mome, is one of the most naturally gifted cartoonists to arrive in awhile.

If someone is just starting to get into the world of comics and graphic novels, which ones would you suggest they start with? It depends on the person, but I'd feel pretty comfortable putting Ghost World, Maus, I Never Liked You, or The Complete Peanuts in someone's hands. Not only are they all classics of the medium, they all have that power to instantly draw you right into their world.

What was it like when you first saw your work in, and on the cover of The New Yorker? Is there anywhere your illustrations haven't been yet that you'd like to see them? I feel like I've been pretty lucky in terms of where my illustrations have appeared, so to be honest, there isn't one particular call I'm waiting around for. There have been a handful of assignments over the years that I've had to turn down due to time constraints, and I was fairly envious when I saw the finished product, beautifully illustrated by someone else. But don't ask me to elaborate, as that would probably be poor form.

In Shortcomings Ben is living in California and seems to have a thing against NYC, did you have any of these feelings before moving here? No, I'm actually quite different from Ben in that regard. I grew up with a very romantic, idealized vision of New York, probably because of all the books I read and the movies I watched. I still have those moments where I come upon some New York landmark or some great view of the city, and I feel like an awestruck tourist, and I don't think that Ben allows himself that experience.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. I used to live in Chris Rock's former apartment. I've got some junk mail for him, if he wants it. Also, I recently was waiting at the Broadway/Lafayette station when I saw an inebriated gentleman lose his balance and fall onto the tracks. Two other guys instantly jumped down after him and pulled him back up onto the platform. When the first fellow stood up, he looked down at his filthy t-shirt and began angrily berating his rescuers for ripping it in the process.

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? When I've been dragged to an over-priced, watered-down Mexican restaurant in Manhattan.

Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? I recently saw the singer Seal in the Apple store dressed in a black ankle-length trench coat, garish scarf, and huge sunglasses—singing along dramatically with the music coming out of a nearby computer while his assistant talked to an employee about setting up Seal's new iPhone. A good example, I suppose, of how celebrities are just normal people who don't want to be noticed...

In a typical, cheap uptown diner, I found myself sitting in a booth adjacent to Liza Minelli, who sang a part of her order ("chicken and avocado wraaaaap") and then erupted in laughter.

Years ago, I sat next to Woody Allen in a bar. He shot me a totally expressionless glance, then proceeded to assemble his clarinet. Okay, I admit it: It was at the Carlyle, and I had paid the exorbitant cover charge just for that experience.

What's your current soundtrack? Right now I'm listening to an abbreviated, out-of-tune version of the "William Tell Overture," which emanates from one of those coin-operated kids' rides in front of the restaurant across the street from our new apartment.

Best cheap eat in the city. Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches. Soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe. Onigiri at Cafe Zaiya. Knishes at Yonah Shimmel.

Best venue to hear music. Well, if you're into abbreviated, out-of-tune versions of the "William Tell Overture," our living room.

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