It’s always exciting when Adrian Tomine releases a new issue of his very occasional anthology series Optic Nerve, but it’s even more exciting when that issue is available at TCAF before it’s released in comics shops. This issue is made up of two stories, ‘Killing and Dying’, and ‘Intruders’.
‘Killing and Dying’ is a story about fatherhood, comedy, and loss. Jessica is an odd fourteen year old with a stutter who has developed an interest in stand-up comedy. Her mother encourages her to take a course at the Learning Annex (for $500), while her father’s disapproval is palpable. Her first performance goes well, but her father figures out that her teacher has written all of her material for her. Later, Jessica decides to try out her own material at an open-mic night that her father sneaks into, and what follows is one of the most awkward scenes I’ve read in comics.
An undercurrent that is never discussed in this story, but is made clear through Tomine’s art, is the mother’s illness. I love the way this story becomes more about what is not being discussed, and how that affects everyone. Tomine uses a twenty-four panel grid for most of this story, which gives it a tight and claustrophobic feeling, much as the father must feel, trapped in his own head.
The second story, ‘Intruders’, is about an aging guy who has found himself alone and unhappy in life. When a chance encounter with a young woman who once apartment-sat for him leads to him having the keys to the apartment he once shared with his ex, he begins a disturbing habit of breaking into his former home on a daily basis.
The guy’s actions seem more or less reasonable at first, even though they are deeply transgressive, but as is the way of such things, events escalate. This story is told with a larger nine-panel grid, and is drawn with thicker lines.
Tomine’s work is always impressive. He creates complete realities in very short amounts of space, and his stories stick with you long after you’ve finished reading them.