32 STORIES BOX SET reviewed by Georgia Straight

“A pair of Adrian Tomine reissues to tickle your Optic Nerve” / Georgia Straight / Amanda Growe / May 12, 2009

At the recent Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly released two publications by one of its best-loved authors.

Shortcomings , which collects issues 9 through 11 of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve comics, was released in paperback. (The hardcover came out in September 2007.)

The more notable, and unusual, release was a boxed-set version of 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics.

The original 32 Stories came out as a regular old paperback book in 1995. While both versions collect the seven Optic Nerve mini comics and chart Tomine's rise to the upper ranks of the comics world (and from print runs of 25 to sales of 6,000), the great thing about the boxed set is that it reproduces the mini comics exactly as they first appeared: folded and stapled, low-tech, comfortable.

It's really something to hold (exact reproductions of) self-published comics in your hands after a long time away from them. Much more than the 32 Stories book, it gives you an appreciation of just how amazing it is that an untrained high-school kid created these things. And you can observe how, in a short space of time, Tomine's talent progressed.

The art in Issue 1 is pretty rough around the edges, but by Issue 2, there's beauty in a number of the panels in each story.

If you read 32 Stories or the original self-published mini comics ages ago, going through the boxed set will feel like visiting an old friend. There are any number of losers and outcasts, vignettes and dreams from Tomine's life, as well as stories starring the nocturnal Amy. Amy, the girl we'd all like to hang out with, the one who says of a friend she's drifted away from, "But every once in a while, I miss that bitter reject I used to hang out with."

One great extra you get with the boxed set is the letters page of each mini comic. The Optic Nerve letters page has long been a source of amusement, and these early letters don't disappoint: writes fellow comics artist Megan Kelso, "Please God, let Adrian continue to have no life so he will finish [ Optic Nerve ] #6 extra fast." There's even a bonus sticker included in one of the issues, as there was in the original.

Besides the seven issues of the mini comic in the boxed set, you get an introductory "issue". This includes Tomine's introduction to the original 32 Stories book, annotated with self-deprecating footnotes, as well as a new introduction, replete with extensive self-examination. There's also a piece by Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros and a letter Oliveros sent to Tomine about his work, which take you back to the beginnings of their relationship.

This boxed set, with its slip-on case and loose contents, isn't for reading on the bus; it's for enjoying in the comfort of your own home, again or for the first time.

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