Nick Hornby, NY Times Book Review: Summer Blonde

“Draw What You Know” / The New York Times / Nick Hornby / December 22, 2002

However often you tell yourself that the comic book is a legitimate art form, with its own language and style, its Chaucers and Shakespeares (although there are some high-culture snobs who would argue that even Stan Lee at his best fails to approach the heights that ''King Lear'' attains), its critics, its ability to get us to see the world in a new way, you may still feel an urge to explain yourself if you are caught reading one in public. (This is especially true if you find yourself reading a page that contains a misspelling. Comic-book artists seem to have a little trouble in that department.) This defensiveness is more likely to come upon you if you have reached a certain age; in the course of preparing for this review, I was tempted more than once to explain to taxi drivers and fellow bus passengers that I was being paid -- paid by The New York Times Book Review, no less -- to read these works, and that there were all sorts of proper books by proper writers waiting for me on my bedside table at home.

The truth, of course, is that many of these proper books will remain unread, or half-read anyway, whereas these comic books were devoured, quickly and with great pleasure: comic books are never dull, in the excruciating way that prose fiction can be, and it's as hard to imagine half-reading most graphic novels (Chris Ware's brilliant, dense, long and occasionally obscure ''Jimmy Corrigan'' is an exception) as it is to imagine half-reading a sonnet.

Adrian Tomine's ''Summer Blonde'' (which is beautifully published by the very smart Canadian company Drawn and Quarterly) aims for the readers of Daniel Clowes's ''Ghost World,'' and will almost certainly hit them, too. Tomine's characters, like Clowes's, can be as sour and as sarcastic as real people, and consequently, reading a comic book suddenly becomes as rewarding as reading good contemporary fiction. ''Summer Blonde'' consists of four novellas, three of them populated by marginalized, lonely and sexually inept Gen Xers (the fourth features marginalized, lonely and sexually confused high school kids). Regrettably, it would appear that sometime during the next few years -- they are not quite miserable or alienated enough yet -- Tomine's characters might find themselves on the same party circuit as some of Todd Solondz's folks. Though these stories are cheerless, they are never less than smart; Tomine cites both the alternative comic ''Love and Rockets'' and Raymond Carver as inspirations (and each story ends with an elliptical resonance), which suggests he knows that comic books are like all art forms: just because you have the talent doesn't mean you have anything to say. Tomine has both talent and a writer's eye for the truth.

Share on Facebook
Share on Tumblr
Share via Email