Adrian Tomine in the Hour

“Adult contemporary” / The Hour / Roseanne Harvey / July 9, 2009

Adrian Tomine's '90s teenage wasteland, newly replicated for authentic nostalgia

32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics and Shortcomings show us how much Adrian Tomine has grown

"If you're a 'glass half full' kind of person, you might say that these comics are youthful, energetic and even enlightening in terms of the evolution they chart," writes Adrian Tomine in his introduction to the special-edition box set of 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics. "If you're feeling less charitable, you'd probably describe them as amateurish, scatter-shot, affected and deeply derivative."
Realistically, 32 Stories falls somewhere in between. At times, the adolescent awkwardness is cringeworthy, and at other times Tomine brilliantly captures the universal experience of high-school alienation. It's like reading an artist's sketchbook, and we can see Tomine experimenting with the comic form and emulating his idols. We can also watch him mature, as an artist and as a person.

The boxed set compiles Tomine's first seven issues of Optic Nerve, a comic pamphlet he published while still a high school student in Berkeley, California, in the early '90s. After being printed as a bound book in 1995 and reprinted several times, this time around the original comics have been completely replicated, including cover stock, letters, an out-of-date Berkeley PO address and stickers (seemingly as a way to keep the comics in print - the reluctant Tomine simply intended for this box set to be viewed as "an artifact from my teenaged years").

Tomine made a name for himself in the American underground comics community because of his prodigious talent and his support for DIY

culture. At the age of 20, he was signed to Montreal-based press Drawn & Quarterly, and went on to produce another 11 issues of Optic Nerve.

We see his talent in full bloom in 2007's full-length graphic novel Shortcomings (a serialization of Optic Nerve issues 9-11), made available in compact paperback this spring as a way to introduce even more readers to Tomine's work. Here, Tomine has mastered not only comic timing, but the arts of storytelling and character development. He's found a style that suits him - minimalist, stark, brilliant use of darkness and light - and a story that he wants to tell.

Shortcomings focuses on Ben Tanaka, a sarcastic, self-deprecating Japanese-American guy in his late-20s, as he deals with relationships, race and place. The witty dialogue is impeccable and the story moves along at a pleasurable pace, with tightly woven images and text that never give way to comic stand-bys such as thought bubbles or internal narration - Tomine wanted the story to be as readable as possible and accessible to the non-comics reader.

32 Stories and Shortcomings are like bookends in Tomine's illustrious and continually ascending career. Recently, the 35-year-old Tomine moved on from comics and graphic novels to producing distinctive covers for The New Yorker and publishing in Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Giant Robot and Rolling Stone. He is currently working on a collection of interconnected short graphic stories.

Adrian Tomine's 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics (Drawn & Quarterly), 96 pp.
and Shortcomings (Drawn & Quarterly), 112 pp.

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