Tomine, Adrian. Killing and Dying.

NY: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.

I’ve become quite a fan of Tomine, one of the best graphic novelists around, although what he produces are actually graphic short stories. Graphic fiction has to be successful both literarily and visually — otherwise there’s no point — and while Tomine’s art is first-rate, his storytelling skills are even better. His stories are entirely realistic, exploring the lives of the people next door. The quality of the writing is such that I don’t doubt he could leave out the drawing altogether and sell most of the six in this volume to New Yorker. What I especially like is that he doesn’t just tell you everything. You have to look and listen and fill in those often subtle gaps for yourself.

He opens with “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture’,” about a gardener-lawn guy who spends six years attempting to invent and promote an entirely new art form that mixes the animate with the inanimate. Very funny in a cringe-producing way. The protagonist of “Amber Sweet” is a college girl who, unfortunately for her, closely resembles a popular porn star and is constantly being mistaken for her. People just won’t believe she doesn’t do sex for a living. Great way to have your life messed up, right? “Go Owls” is also about women dealing with sex and men, but in a very different way. The heroine (such as she is) is having a hard time with the world and is taken in and looked after (sort of) by an older guy who also happens to deal drugs. It may be the best situation she’s going to find, which is sad but perhaps realistic. Great shock ending, too.

“Killing and Dying” is the most serious thing here, a borderline tearjerker, and it seems even longer than it is because nearly all of it is done in twenty small panels to the page. What do you do when your fourteen-year-old daughter, who tends to stammer, wants to try stand-up comedy? Do you try to be cautious and rational about it? Or do you opt for fully supportive and just go with it, even when she’s a disaster on stage? And especially when your wife is undergoing severe medical stress? But, like I said, Tomine doesn’t tell you everything. That’s also the case with “Intruders,” in which a guy (who may be a returning Iraqi veteran, who may be either widowed or divorced) finds the keys to his old apartment among his accumulated junk, the place he and his wife used to live. After staking out the place to be sure of the new occupant’s routine, he slips in one day just to look the place over and remember. He fries himself an egg (which he carefully replaces) and carefully tidies up before he leaves. Then he does it again, and spending time in the place that is no longer his becomes a habit. Until the day someone breaks in. It’s a terrific story that could also be an interesting film.

The one story that didn’t work well for me is “Translated from the Japanese,” in which a Japanese woman (I think) returns to California from a visit to her family in Japan (I think). She’s accompanied by her kid — boy or girl, we never know — and apparently some time has passed. She’s met by her (probably Anglo) husband. Or maybe ex-husband. And she and her child find themselves by themselves in a very small, rather dreary apartment. And that’s about it. We never see anyone’s face, either. Maybe it’s just too impressionistic for me, especially compared to the rest of Tomine’s work.

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