Book Review: 'Killing and Dying,' Satirical Stories Told by Graphic Novelist Adrian Tomine

'Killing and Dying' is a collection of stories by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine. (Photo courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly)

By : Nico Novito | on 3:06 PM November 30, 2015
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

Jakarta. For most people who are familiar with his name, Adrian Tomine is best known for his charming illustrations in The New Yorker.

Since the early 2000s, the illustrator and graphic novelist has imagined various scenes set in New York for the magazine's weekly covers: a girl and a boy reading the same book and sharing a knowing glance on the subway; a flock of selfie-taking tourists at the 9/11 memorial plaza; a hipster family enjoying a kale salad and organic wine near Brooklyn's polluted Gowanus Canal.

Tomine now brings his evocative — and occasionally humor-charged — drawings to "Killing and Dying," published by Drawn & Quarterly, displaying a collection of his graphic short stories.

The six stories inside the hardcover compendium are taken from various issues of "Optic Nerve," Tomine's comic book series that he self-published in his 20s.

With his signature crisp illustrations that veer between black-and-white and exuberantly colorful, Tomine explores various facets of life in 21st century in these diverse and beautifully drawn stories — be it about one's creative ambition or a middle-aged man and his mediocre life.

The underlying story centers around a stuttering teenager whose new-found interest to become a stand-up comedian confounds her parents. To reveal even a little more of the plot would amount to a spoiler, but it is indeed one of the most emotionally moving parts of the book.

Tomine deftly employs subtle visual cues by illustrating the expressions of the parents from one panel to the next to capture the happiness and pain the family faces. As the story jumps through time to its heart-rending end, it stands as a testament to Tomine's ability to bring literary vigor to his graphic novel medium.

Other stories, while featuring a different cast of characters, are also similar in its themes displaying anxiety, hope and disappointment.

In "Amber Sweet," a woman grows frustrated after being constantly mistaken for her porn-star doppelgänger, while "A Brief History of the Art Form Known as 'Hortisculpture'" revolves around a gardener who entertains his delusion of having invented an artistic masterpiece.

Tomine drew the latter in short comic strips that depict the creative frustration of its main protagonist, each strip is sparse but the story progresses in an equally funny and poignant narrative.

Meanwhile, "Translated, From the Japanese," takes on a wholly different style with its impeccably detailed, lushly colored still images. The mysterious and heartbreaking story unfolds as a letter from a mother to her infant son as they embark on a journey from Japan to the United States.

The ingenuity of these stories lies not only on Tomine's meticulous drawings, but also his talent to capture small moments that often go unnoticed. There is no definite closure to each tale but perhaps it's the author's intention all along: to show that no matter how bad it gets, life goes on.

"Killing and Dying"  is available at Aksara bookstores in Jakarta.

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