Adrian Tomine at Politics and Prose

I know I’m not alone in using Adrian Tomine’s work as a representation of what is wrong with a lot of indie comics — that is, they are these navel-gazing stories about the sad and poetic love lives of urban hipsters. I admit it’s not quite fair to Tomine, since I did enjoy 32 Stories, but Tomine’s work does make for an easy shorthand in discussions.

I was quite surprised when Shortcomings took off and I certainly got sick of the dozens of articles written about it and him. Still, I like hearing comic book creators discuss their work so I while I was not a fan, going to this seemed like it would be a good evening.

I left liking Tomine as a person a bit more. However, my opinion of his work remains unchanged.

He’s not a good public speaker, but I’m not going to hold that against him. His self-conscious stammering was actually a little charming and I liked his insight into how he approached creating Shortcomings. Before, he said, he’d always write a fairly formal script before he began to draw — this time, he wrote and drew at the same time. He brought along pages-in-progress to show his creative process for the book. He also discussed his influences — notably, Jaime Hernandez and Daniel Clowes. (While Tomine did say he read/bought superhero stuff for a while, he stopped when was about 12. I think we’re rapidly approaching a generation of creators who will have grow up only reading indie comics, which I think is kind of interesting.)

He seems to understand his work is polarizing — he almost seems to encourage that. He told a story about a time he and his wife sat down in a restaurant and the couple beside them suddenly started talking about Summer Blonde, the male half ranting about how much he hated it and why. He also prints plenty of letters trashing his work in Optic Nerve. I like his self-awareness and he was much more humble than I expected.

I was glad that someone asked during the question-and-answer session if he felt like his work about hipsters-in-relationships was sort of becoming a genre for him, but he kind of dodged the question, or at least, he didn’t answer it directly. As far as I’m concerned, I think that’s my problem with Tomine — I think he’s a talented artist and a decent storyteller, but I do feel like having read 32 Stories, there’s not much reason to read anything else he’s written. I would love to see Tomine reach farther outside his own experience and tell different stories. I’m not asking him to write crazy sci-fi adventures, but I do feel like I know he can write these kind of melancholy stories about twentysomethings. I’d like to see what else he’s capable of.

But judging from the collection of college and grad students (and possibly younger), he is making a connection with plenty of readers. I’m just not one of them.

Adrian Tomine is someone I’m going to continue to keep an eye on and I think he’ll only get better as he gets older. But mostly, I left Politics and Prose still not really caring too much about his work, although I do want to reread 32 Stories again.

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