Adrian Tomine knows — and shows — what it’s like to be an outsider in an insiders’ world. His light, naturalist-minimalist drawings and storylines tackle, in wry Carveresque fashion, the awkward exchanges and loaded silences of small moments. When you read Tomine, you feel like you are sneaking into the ordinary lives of people you meet every day: the insomniac college girl who runs into an old flame late one night in a diner, the scruffy slacker whiling away the hours in a photocopy shop, the depressed telephone service operator who makes prank phone calls. There are tales about flirting with co-workers, about annoying neighbors, critical mothers and superior younger sisters. His crisp, almost gestural line work is both modern and retro, and each painstakingly composed individual panel comes across like a scene from a movie. It’s pure story done in a pure style, devoid of gimmicks or wacky, superhero histrionics.
Now in his early 30s, Tomine began drawing comics in high school. His ongoing graphic novel Optic Nerve , which began as a self-published zine before being picked up by alt-comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly, became required reading for angsty young Gen-Xers. Tomine is, in a sense, the Holden Caulfield for the Asian-American set. He’s drawn the occasional New Yorker cover since then, but mainly he’s been working toward heftier narratives.
Shortcomings is Tomine’s first long-form graphic novel. In it, we meet Ben Tanaka, a young Japanese-American male who works in a movie theater. He’s obsessed with cute, artsy white chicks and is having a rough time with his Japanese girlfriend. And then there’s his Korean lesbian friend, Alice, seen here, who’s getting more play than he is. If Ben doesn’t seem like someone you know, he will by the time you finish the book.
Excerpted fromShortcomingsby Adrian Tomine, to be published in October by Drawn and Quarterly.