WSJ Profile on Adrian and Review of Scenes from an Impending Marriage

“Negotiating the Union: A Local Cartoonist Gets Real in His Book About Marriage” / The Wall Street Journal / Bruce Bennett / February 1, 2011

Immortalizing a wedding via video has become nearly as commonplace as pre-vow jitters. But for Brooklyn-based cartoonist and illustrator Adrian Tomine, the preparation for his 2007 wedding was an experience the artist couldn't resist documenting on paper.

Originally handed out as a 16-page Xeroxed favor to the couple's guests, Mr. Tomine's wryly confessional cartoon depiction of the leg work, negotiations, logistical decisions and procedural compromises that he and his fiancée, Sarah Brennan, encountered en route to the altar comes out Tuesday in a 54-page volume called "Scenes From an Impending Marriage: A Prenuptial Memoir."

The book's easygoing humor represents something of a tonal departure for Mr. Tomine, who is perhaps best known for his ongoing graphic-novel series "Optic Nerve." His 2007 graphic novel, "Shortcomings," was a bracingly detailed—and fictional—relationship forensic that novelist Jonathan Lethem compared in look to the work of French filmmaker Erich Rohmer and in character complexity to the prose of Alice Munro.

"The wedding book is by far the cleanest and least cynical and least sarcastic thing I've ever done," the artist acknowledged recently over coffee near his home in Park Slope. "Not just because of the subject matter, but also because originally the only audience that was going to read it was going to be our grandparents and distant aunts."

Mr. Tomine, a 36-year-old native of California, pointed out that the lighter tone of his new volume is largely due to the two-part nature of its genesis. "This book was created during two unusually chaotic times in my life," he said, referring to his wedding and the subsequent birth of his daughter in 2009. "The original stuff was done as we were really coming to the finish line of the actual wedding itself, which was overtaking my life in a way that was insane."

When the process of parsing out, pricing out and putting together the big event proved too much, he said, he could always find respite in the calm of applying himself to a related task with which he was more familiar. "It was fun to be able to say, 'Well, I've gotta go work on the favor, and then sit there with my headphones on and draw."

But it became more difficult with a baby on the way, as Mr. Tomine worked to expand the book to publishable length. "The finishing touches and the stuff I added was done right after our daughter was born," he said. With a newborn in the household, "The idea of getting serious work done was just out of the question."

Within "Scenes From an Impending Marriage," Mr. Tomine, who is fourth-generation Japanese-American, pokes fun at the differences between his own family and his wife's Irish-American forebears. At one point in the book, the couple strikes a compromise by denying suggestions from the groom's family to include traditional Japanese Taiko drummers in the ceremony and from the bride's side to have bag pipes. But the author, who moved to Brooklyn from the Bay Area to be with Ms. Brennan, said the marriage process also led to a West Coast-East Coast culture shock.

"I think I'd probably been to one or two weddings in my life prior to my own," he said. Being from California, "my sense of a wedding even at its most grand scale was like a glorified barbecue in someone's back yard that's been nicely decorated. There's just a lot more rules or expectations [in New York]. Out here I really felt more like I was plugging into this industry."

While "Scenes From an Impending Marriage" lampoons much of that industry, Mr. Tomine said the experiences that provoked humor in the book also inspired real-life empathy for those whose jobs it is to fulfill New Yorkers' wedding expectations.

"I felt their pain," he said of negotiating with caterers, DJs, florists and other wedding enablers. "Any time I got that little prickly vibe from somebody, I thought, 'Who knows who did what five minutes before we walked into this room.' We're not rude, we're not pushy, we're not having temper tantrums, but we're still annoying and it would still suck to have to cater to us. I imagine that we're on the reasonable end of the spectrum of people getting married, but just imagine what the spectrum is."

While his vocation qualified him to interpret the pre-wedding experience, Mr. Tomine said it did little to prepare him to co-direct it. "I've never been in any position where I was a boss," he said. "It was very uncomfortable, especially when you're looking across the table at some 75-year-old woman from Japan who really just wants to work on her orchids for the orchid show at the Javits Center, but instead she's got to do your stupid bouquets."

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