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‘Killing and Dying,’ by Adrian Tomine

January 11, 2016
It is a special thing in this world when you find someone who masters two crafts and then blends them together seamlessly.

This collection of six short graphic stories by the Optic Nerve and Shortcomings author Adrian Tomine takes us through issues of failed dreams, mistaken identities, parenting, cancer, immigration, family relationships, how the pursuit of an idae can make us dicks, abusive relationships, substance abuse and stand-up.

We knew Tomine was an excellent illustrator from his regular work in Optic Nerve, The New Yorker and his other publications, but reading Killing and Dying confirms he’s also a masterful storyteller.

The writing in Killing and Dying is honest and dark; funny and true; heartbreaking and empathetic. It had me weeping for characters my social engineering would normally have me despise: the racist, the deadbeat, the pathetic, the misogynist, the unfixable, the tragic, the violent.

His stories leave us feeling uncomfortable with our own feelings and that’s a very interesting place for a reader to be.

Tomine is very economic with his storytelling. Although his pieces are heavily narrative-driven, not a line of ink or word are wasted. His dialogue is as clean as his pencil lines. There is no overdone complexity.

Each story really has a distinctive narrative and graphic style. There’s no mistaking where one ends and the other begins.

The story ‘Intruders’ is drawn in a dark pencil sketch reminiscent of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tomine and Tatsumi worked together through their published, Drawn and Quarterly. Tomine has said Tatsumi was a mentor to the younger artist. Tatsumi passed away in March, 2015, before Killing and Dying was published.

His visual narrative style is extremely understated. Tomine’s simple clean lines and plainly-drawn characters fool us into thinking the topics are not incredible hard to write about, he does it with such ease.

There’s one panel in the titular story, ‘Killing and Dying’ where, without ever saying anything, simply by the way he draws the panel, you know one of the characters is no longer with us. It’s never been stated anywhere in the story, but the way he draws it you all of a sudden feel this whole undercurrent of unstated grief and loss and unfairness.  He doesn’t have to say anything.  It is so good.

As for categorization. Maybe we can call this the visual short story. Can this be a thing? I feel like Tomine has made it a thing. Reading the stories of intimate lives set in non-descript and slightly decrepit urban American harkens me back to Flannery O’Connor and her short stories in southern gothic style, with their grotesque characters and questions of morality.

Killing and Dying is sad and perfect. It transcends the graphic novel medium and has me itching to read more of his previous work. This has been one of my favourite reads of the past year.

Have you read this yet?

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