Indie Comic Review: Tomine’s Shortcomings

Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine
Serialized in Optic Nerve #9-11, 2004-2006
Published in hardcover 2007

At the beginning, I was impressed by how readable Tomine was able to make a book filled mostly with unlikable characters (okay, Alice Kim, the spunky Korean American lesbian, is a hoot despite being a womanizer and a cad). By the end, I was thinking, damn, that’s bleak. I guess I expected some kind of twist ending, but that would have been too easy.

Tomine, who is Japanese American himself, initially focuses on his relationship around all-around bitter dude Ben Tanaka and his long-suffering, more idealistic (or is she?) girlfriend, Miko Hayashi. They argue about a lot of things, in particular whether he really wouldn’t rather be a white girl (you can guess where this goes).

I’ve read that Tomine, who seems pretty focused on the hipster scene, never actually addressed race in his previous work, which is funny because I probably wouldn’t have picked up (even at the library, as I did here) his previous work if I saw it. I do think that what Tomine does with race is here is interesting, particularly because, by the end of the book, you get the feeling that he considers everybody to be wrong, even though I think he portrays almost every argument and viewpoint with an interesting kind of sympathy.

I think the greatest flaw of this “graphic novel” is that near the end, Tomine does have one of his characters spell out some things that were already, one imagines, pretty obvious. Of course, the effect is devestating, so maybe it works, but it does seem a little on-the-nose.

As I said, Tomine ultimately doesn’t provide us with any answers, which is definitely an unsettling experience, moreso than I would have expected, if only because the characters really deserve everything they get (no contrivances here). I think his work is worth taking a look at, as long as you’re not already feeling depressed!


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