Books like this make me wish I had interesting, creative and meaningful ideas and artistic talent. Quite frankly, I’m jealous of Adrian Tomine.
The bookseller at Foyle’s in Birmingham told me how good this book was as I was paying for it. It was a nice piece of decision reinforcement; a bit of a pat on the back and a cry of ‘good taste fella.’
Tomine’s graphic novel/comic contains six diverse stories with unusual plots or settings. The book examines the relationships between fascinating and sometimes flawed characters. It draws the reader in.
The first story, perhaps my favourite, is ‘A brief History of the Art Form Known as “Hortisculpture.” Gardener Harold combines the disparate world’s of horticulture and fine art to create some truly ugly living sculptures. Harold meets resistance and derision from neighbours, friends, family and the existing clients of his gardening business. His attempts to sell his idea and the various ways people attempt to avoid telling him that it is rubbish are highly comical. The comic is presented as a series of 6 ‘four frame’ stories in black and white followed by a nine frame colour piece. It’s as if it was taken from the pages of a daily newspaper with the colour page featuring as a special in the Sunday edition.
Amber Sweet tells the awkward tale of a girl who receives unwanted attention due to the fact that she looks like a famous porn star (the Amber Sweet of the title). The girl’s life and relationships with men and women are ruined by the misunderstanding. The girl gets little sympathy, even from her female friends, but a chance meeting with Amber Sweet allow her to make sense of things. This is a thoughtful piece on pornography and the objectification of women.
‘Go Owls’ sees two baseball fans hook up after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Dennis Barry is a prematurely aged minor drug dealer and general ‘waster’. The lady in the story is not named but simply referred to by Dennis as ‘Babe’. At an obvious low point in her life she perhaps sees the chance of support, companionship and love but suffers a series of blows, both mental and physical. We can laugh at Dennis, who is one of life’s losers, but his treatment of his ‘Babe’ is creepy and wrong. This is not a hard-boiled tale of domestic abuse by any means. It is a contemplative account of a man’s manipulation of a woman.
The next story, ‘Translated from the Japanese’ is a short but beautiful example of Adrian Tomine’s artwork. We never see the lady who narrates the story. Instead we see a journey she takes through her eyes. Casual observations of everyday surroundings are impeccably rendered. The story is short and enigmatic; definitely one to ponder over.
‘Killing and Dying’ refers to two things that a comedian can experience on stage. This is the tale of a teenage girl who wants to be a standup comedian and her relationship with her parents who want to be supportive but struggle somewhat to see comedy as a great career path. The story is told in pages of 20 frames and each is a stamp-sized study of expression and emotion.
The final tale, called ‘Intruders’ follows a US war veteran struggling to reintegrate on his return home. By a strange coincidence he has the opportunity to hang out in his old family home during the day when the current owners are out at work. It’s a peculiar set-up but quite an effective piece on alienation.
This is a brilliant book – one to read, enjoy and think about again and again. Highly recommended.