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Killing and Dying Hardcover – October 6, 2015
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“[Adrian Tomine] is an emotional x-ray machine. All-seeing, all-knowing."―Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
“One of the nation’s greatest and most versatile cartoonists."―Scott Timberg, Salon
"Tomine may be my favorite comics artist ― deft and subtle, with a bittersweet understanding of the tension between aspiration and loss."―David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
"Achingly human and divinely rendered."―Kirkus
"A deft, deadpan masterpiece filled with heartache interspersed with the shock of beauty."―Publishers Weekly Starred Review
About the Author
Adrian Tomine was born in 1974 in Sacramento, California. He began self-publishing his comic book series Optic Nerve. His comics have been anthologized in publications such as McSweeney's, Best American Comics, and Best American Nonrequired Reading, and his graphic novel Shortcomings was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007. Since 1999, Tomine has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.
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This is my first go reading Tomine's stuff, and damn if I'm not impressed. From the outside, the book is beautiful. Evocative cover art, and the clear dust cover is a nice touch (though I will say it can be easily scuffed, but no worries). The paper quality is very good, to the degree that there were a couple instances where I thought maybe I had got two pages at once but hadn't. Each story in this collection is different - everything from the subject matter and characters to the lettering and the visual style shows how much care is put into telling these tales. I'd be lying if I didn't say the book could be draining at times - some stories, one in particular, leave you feeling empty, while others have a much more hopeful turn than you would expect. There's such a range of emotions conveyed in such nuanced ways - lots of subtext and unspoken events unfold during these stories, showing how carefully they were put together. If you're into comics that read like some of the best contemporary prose short-stories, or just love good writing and emotive art, definitely check this out. Personally, I'm excited to see more of his work.
'A Brief History of the Art of Hortisculpture' is formatted like a weekly strip - I thought it was fantastic to frame the tumultuous home life depicted in the story within a format commonly associated with (generally upbeat) family-centric strips while also implying a passage of time (the story unfolds over roughly six years). Tomine highlights the pain on both sides of a marriage wherein one partner is caught in a fruitless obsession, following his muse under the water and drowning his family in his stubborn self-affirmation. Through the story, you can almost feel the ending creeping up like a foregone conclusion, an inevitability - something has got to give.
'Amber Sweet' deals with the struggle to find identity and a sense of self when others see it differently. The main character has a famous doppleganger, but it doesn't help her in public- not like a, 'hey, you look like Matt Damon!' - and drastically changes her quality of life in her late teens/early 20's. The story follows her as she recounts her life falling apart and her attempts to put it back together - almost venting, getting it off her chest - with enough openness to wonder if she's on an upswing or another fall to pieces. The full-color works beautifully ('Hortisculpture' works in green tones, with occasional color), and the transition to larger panels works well for the story.
'Go Owls' is probably one of the hardest-hitting in the collection, an examination of a relationship that feels more like the anecdote of the frog being boiled alive so slowly it doesn't realize it than a relationship. The main character meets an older man at an AA meeting and suddenly seems to be the background character, completely overshadowed by the man that bonded with her over addiction and baseball. At times, it seems okay, that it's getting better, but the feeling of being trapped comes across so realistically that the reader feels it too. Heartbreaking.
'Translated, from the Japanese' is probably my favorite of the bunch. It's only seven pages, spread across large panels and narrated in what amounts to maybe a couple paragraphs of text, and not once are any of the characters seen directly, but the power in the story is undeniable. By focusing the full-color art on the settings, locations, objects, and everything around the characters, the reader takes the journey with them and the story somehow becomes even more universal. I absolutely loved this one.
'Killing and Dying' follows a family of three dealing with expectations and aspirations on the surface, and something unspoken and devastating between the lines (watch the art in the background). Where is the line between support and protection, when does a parent stop or allow their child to experience failure, and what matters more? The characters here are as flawed as they are relatable, and it's the perfect portrait of a family trying so hard to be together and to be there for one another. The format changes again here, with small, gridlike panels.
'Intruders' closes out the collection in stark black and white, and is definitely up there in the running for darkest of the bunch. A veteran tries to return to his old life first in normal ways, but then they turn more sinister. There's a lot of moral crisis in this one, and in a way the main character deserves pity for most of it, but it's somewhat unclear if by the end the events he put himself into changed him for the better.
Again, this is a fantastic set of stories and I look forward to reading more from Tomine for sure.
Each story affected me and made me feel for the characters. Some of the situations hit too close to home. Tomine is a master of observation and captures those small but important life moments. Highly recommended.
As much as I wish he would return to longer works (like "Shortcomings"), this is still a fantastic read.
The book itself (hardcover edition) is beautiful and sturdy and would be great for a gift.