Party Favor: Scenes From An Impending Marriage

The Comics Journal    |    The Comics Journal    |    January 18, 2011

Halfway through reading Adrian Tomine’s new release, Scenes From An Impending Marriage, I was baffled. This comic was certainly funny and strangely sweet in the way it tweaked himself, his wife-to-be Sarah and (most especially) the borderline-psychosis that can occur when planning a wedding. What was baffling to me was why on earth he would do this, and why it would be so short. The work was far too polished and considered to simply be sketchbook fodder. It also felt very “in-the-moment”, not something that was done long after the wedding was done. The reason why it was baffling was it made me wonder why on earth he would attempt to do this sort of thing in the middle of planning a wedding? The answer is contained in the comic itself: because his fiance’ asked him to. How could he say no?

What Tomine captures so perfectly in this book is the way the most reasonable person can devolve into a frantic, obsessive-compulsive state. What would seem to be a cute, personalized touch for a wedding (like making one’s own invitations, or in the case of this book, crafting a minicomic as a party favor) can wind up taking over one’s life–and often to no effect whatsoever. Reading this book only made me shake my head at the memory of the dozens of hand-made chocolate lollipops my wife & I made for our wedding that went uneaten. Tomine nails that feeling with the ridiculous lengths he went to in order to create the perfect wedding invitation (down to using hand calligraphy on each envelope), only to imagine each guest casually tossing aside the lovingly-crafted envelope.

Tomine is ordinarily an astute observer of the ways in which our unspoken obsessions wind up destroying all of our most treasured relationships. His protagonists are frequently selfish, jealous, petty and incapable of putting the needs of others ahead of themselves. To a degree, his characters have always incorporated bits of Tomine’s own personality, though perhaps exaggerated for narrative effect. Even in this mini, Tomine’s self-depiction demonstrates a lack of patience for the stupidity of others and exhibits a sort of hurtful bluntness, as opposed to his more conciliatory fiance’. That said, Tomine in real life understands his own flaws, the ones that he likes to write large on the page, and is even willing to mock them here. The same is certainly true of his fiance’, he cops to her own need to be liked while avoiding the gaze of a ridiculous DJ (“DJ Buttercream”, whose name alone demanded that this comic be made) that they chose not to hire because of his awful musical taste.
Tomine varies his formatting between a 9-panel grid and single page/single panel comics page-style cartoons. He uses the same drawing style throughout, a variation on Charles Schulz’ simple character design. Indeed, Tomine borrows a number of elements from Schulz, like his characters saying “WAAAAH!” with their heads thrown back. The single panel strips use a number of repeating motifs for a single punchline, like Tomine repeatedly noting that “nonsense” like dance lessons, exercise and eyebrow tweezing will stop the moment they’re married. The result is a breezy, relaxed look–much looser than his normal pages, but every bit as expressive. For an artist as fastidious as Tomine, it’s refreshing to see a project like this see the light of day. It’s not unlike Seth releasing Wimbledon Green, a quickly-drawn project that’s mostly just for fun. Just as Seth’s sense of whimsy and imagination are qualities that are underplayed in his regular work but brought to the fore in his more relaxed comics, so are Tomine’s gag timing and sense of affection for his characters qualities that one doesn’t normally see in Optic Nerve. While I certainly wouldn’t want his work reduced to those qualities, it would be nice to see more of them from time to time.

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