Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine Review

Adrian Tomine’s latest book Killing and Dying collects issues #12-14 of his series Optic Nerve and comprises six stories, almost all of which are superbly written/drawn. 

I’ll get the one story I didn’t love out of the way first: Translated, From the Japanese, which reads like a prose poem about a memory from long ago being related from a mother to her child. A lot of Tomine’s stories in this book are very evocative but this one was openly trying for it and it didn’t work. Instead it came off as very boring and superficial, like those creative writing assignments where the students write about their grandmothers dying or something equally banal in a cheap effort to get an emotional reaction from the reader. 

Translated, From the Japanese does have gorgeous artwork though. All of the stories are drawn in differing styles that’s still recognisably Tomine’s and all are remarkable. The book design is excellent too: it’s a transparent wraparound cover with writing overlaying the hardcover visuals. The paper also feels high quality and the colours look wonderfully crisp on it. 

My favourite piece was the title story. It’s about a teen girl who wants to become a stand-up comedian despite seeming awkward and with a stutter. Her mother is very supportive but her father is not and has many reservations about her chosen dream. Killing and Dying refers to different aspects of the story but most pertinently to performing on stage where killing means you did good and dying means you did bad. 

The story is fast-moving without captions to aid the reader in knowing how time is passing. Instead he shows us through developments in the plot. He does such a good job of creating his characters and endearing them to the reader so quickly, when I saw something happen to one of the three characters, I literally said “Oh NO!” – I can’t remember when I last reacted like that to a comic! 

And while the story is full of disappointment and death, and in one instance is palpably cringe-worthy, it’s also somehow funny, real and strangely gripping to read. It deals with parent/children relationships and change perfectly and, without making light of the issues in the story, it’s really entertaining. 

Go Owls is a close second for me. It’s the story of two alcoholics who fall in love, bonding over their shared loyalty to the local baseball side, the Owls, and we see their relationship develop over time, starting out quite cheerfully and then becoming progressively darker once the man begins to reveal his true self. Again, it’s a masterfully told story with utterly convincing characters and full of twists and turns – powerful stuff. 

I enjoyed the other stories as well. A Brief History of the Art Form Known as “Hortisculpture” is about a gardener who tries to create a new art form –and fails. It’s mostly comical but is also a serious commentary on creativity and being an unsuccessful artist. Amber Sweet is about a college student who looks identical to a porn star and how that coincidence impacts her life. Intruders is a weird story about a disturbed man who uses the key for his former apartment to visit the place during the day and leave before the new tenants return. 

Now in his early 40s, Adrian Tomine has been cartooning for more than half his life and the experience and skill he’s accumulated over the years really shows in Killing and Dying. It’s an outstanding collection of stories each one of which could be a full-length book but which Tomine has distilled to their raw and essential bases making for a decidedly more potent reading experience. The characters are really well-written, the artwork is impressive throughout, and the stories are (almost all) unique, fresh and compelling told with a pitch-perfect narrative sensibility. 

Of the two, Tomine is definitely killing it in this book!

Killing and Dying: Stories

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