Drawn and Quarterly
Adrian Tomine has published single-story graphic novels, ongoing strips and dozens of award-winning single panels, including many of the great covers for The New Yorker but Killing and Dying is a standalone set of short stories, connected by their themes of ennui, loss of hope, modern-day mediocrity, the stumbling American Dream as slow-moving day-trip nightmare; Generation X’s great existential quandary.
The stories are of varying lengths and each has a completely different look and feel with purpose-drawn settings and scenes to mirror the style of dialogue and narrative within each.
We can see, most obviously, the comic world of Daniel Clowes – that deadpan rage – but these are characters we’ve seen and heard in Willy Vlautin’s novels too, in the films of PT Anderson and Todd Solondz, the films and short stories of Miranda July, the writing of Raymond Carver, the directing of Robert Altman…Tomine doesn’t have the scoop here, nor is that ever the suggestion, but there’s a quiet devastation in these pages, the husband who wants to be good at his brand new version of art (A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture) and even the assurance of his wife, “I just love you and want you to be happy” is – sadly – nowhere near enough. The damaged couple who find each other through a shared interest and destroy each other through shared insecurities, vices and residual baggage (Go Owls) and the lost in translation ennui of culture shock (Translated, From The Japanese) – all explored with such great depth of emotional understanding, so exquisitely drawn, rendered; there’s empathy as an undercurrent always, most often the reader gets the heads-up, the chance to read and see and hear and feel it before the characters ever do. In many cases of course they never do.
The title story has an awkward teenager turning to stand-up comedy with one parent supportive and another condemning. The story is of course about so much more than just that – but in it we are taken on a journey where we feel rage toward all three of the characters at various points, and sympathise with all three of them at others. In just 20 pages, and with minimal text, Tomine’s story is one of the greatest shorts I’ve ever written; the emotional resonance of the best novel or film you see or read in a month. And easy enough to instantly revisit.
And if there’s a cautionary tale for the time we live in and watch go by (well, in some sense these are all contemporary cautionary tales) its Amber Sweet. The one where the dark humour is easiest to process too. Here’s a case of mistaken identity, a young woman is mistaken for an internet porn star and can do nothing to shake this ‘belief’ in almost everyone she encounters. The madness of this modern world – and that idea that we’re all interconnecting but so rarely to we actually connect, or even give ourselves over to the notion that we might like to try actually connecting is just one of several palpable themes. These graphic shorts arrive like sucker-punch poems. They hit hard and burst into a beauty all their own.
This is a masterful collection. And it arrives on the back of 25 years of great comic work across memoir, journalism and a variety of non-fiction disciplines as well as the good-old-fashioned cartoon fiction. So there’s no stigma, no sheepishness, and no folly attached when I say this is one of the finest books I’ve short stories I’ve ever experienced. So visceral, wise, heart-breaking, profound.