For some time now, one of my favourite short story writers has been Brooklyn, New York’s Adrian Tomine, the writer and illustrator of the comic series Optic Nerve, many of which have been collected and reproduced in handful of graphic novel collections, including the recent six story collection Killing and Dying (2015), all produced through Montreal’s Drawn and Quarterly.
Working with multiple narrative styles, Tomine has always had the ability to write his stories with an incredible density, able to encapsulate and articulate multiple levels of silence, discomfort, awkwardness and interpersonal twists in the simplest, most subtle ways. Often, he manages to say an incredible amount even in a sequence of panels with almost no dialogue, harnessing a level of emotion that is multi-leveled, and even contradictory. How are we to feel of a character living with such pain and loss, and even anger, lashing out at his partner? How are we to feel of his partner once he is, out of nowhere, left behind? And why didn’t she, nor we, see such an end long coming? There are times I’m even amazed at how he can take a character down a particular path far enough to understand how it is he arrived, despite the distance. Through writing out characters experiencing and moving through their lives, Tomine manages to capture the essence of how one moves from point a to point b, as we see his characters move through all the extraordinary ordinary things that make up living, and his stories are grounded in such inquiries of: how did I get here? How did we get here? And what do we do from here?
In my mind, the stories of Adrian Tomine are as striking and worthy as anything being composed by Lorrie Moore and Lydia Davis for their brevity, expansiveness and emotional power.