Graphic Short Stories, Adrian Tomine style…

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

I’ve long been a fan of graphic artistTomine’s individual cartoons including covers for The New Yorker like this one (right, which is available as a greetings card!), but I’d never read any of his stories before.

Killing and Dying is his 2015 collection of six short stories, written and drawn between 2011 and 2015 and published by Faber in the UK. They all look at everyday life, and vary in drawing style.

In Hortisculpture, we begin with the story of a jobbing gardener who is struggling against stiff competition. Then he has a big idea ‘Hortisculpture’ and shuts himself away to make some twisted sculptural forms with holes and cups for plants in them. He’s obsessed, but no-one wants to buy them, even his wife doesn’t really support his efforts.  This humorous story is told as if it were a daily strip – with six half page sections of four frames, then a full page colour page. It’s a fun first story with an upbeat ending.

Amber Sweet, (left) the second story, is a tale of mistaken identity. A hard-working college girl keeps getting salacious comments and she discovers she has a doppelganger in a porn star.  This makes life quite difficult for her…  This story is drawn in a variety of frame sizes, with text blocks as well as speech bubbles.

Go Owls is a monochrome tale of a girl who gets into a bad relationship with an older man, linked by their support of the same team.  Intruders is the tale of a soldier who breaks into houses between tours, and is similarly drawn to Go Owls in a more sketchy, style. I’ll admit, I enjoyed these two less than the others.

Translated, from the Japanese, which contains the cover image, is an exquisitely drawn eight page story in which an unpictured mother is taking her child back to California, where the child’s father lives, from Japan.  We don’t see their faces, just the stops on the way, punctuated with wistful narration from the mother, which made this story rather touching.

The undoubted highlight of this collection in its storytelling is Killing and Dying itself (right), in which a teenaged daughter takes to the mike to try her hand at stand-up and later improv as a way to increase her self-esteem, going to expensive stand-up classes where she’s told she’s way funnier than she actually is as she discovers too late. This all happens as her mother is getting ill – around half way through the story, she is wearing a headscarf and has obviously lost her hair.  Based around a twenty frames to a page format, this was undeniably a heart-breaking and very human tale.

The whole book is also beautifully made. Thick hardback boards, lovely endpapers which tell their own story, and a thick, clear wrapper with sharply defined creases around the boards (first time I’ve ever seen that).  As a whole, the book is a little uneven, but there is plenty of superb graphic art and some excellent storytelling here. I’d love to read more of Tomine’s work.  (7.5/10)

Source: Own copy.

Adrian Tomine, Killing and Dying (Faber and Faber, 2015) Hardback, 128 pages.

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