Writer & Artist: Adrian Tomine
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Release Date: July 31, 2013
The first story in this issue of Optic Nerve, which keeps on coming out with persistence if not regularity, serves as a perfect explanation of why Adrian Tomine continues to work in his unique format. A dense one-pager visible behind the half-page cover, “Winter, 2012” consists of the artist’s travails when he discovers his regular brand of Bristol board suddenly starts to bleed when inked. He complains at the art supply store, only to be steered toward a tablet solution, which he grumps about. At the bookstore, the book he’s looking for isn’t available, and the sales clerk tells him he should just order it from Amazon. His post office box still has correspondence in it, but even there he’s upbraided for his Luddism in refusing to migrate online.
The beauty of Optic Nerve and of the comics format in general, as both this short story and the letters on the last page of the thin booklet argue, lies exactly in its ephemeral nature. Here is something made the way the artist wants it. It is not reaching the largest possible audience. It is not going viral. It is a controlled and limited environment. And that is both unusual and pleasurable.
The other two stories are vastly different from this intro and from each other. “GO OWLS” introduces us to two characters in a 12-step program who meet, fall in love (sort of), and begin to immediately fall apart. I’d be surprised if Tomine’s a sports fan, and there’s something about this story that suggests athletics brings people together only on a superficial level, one that can’t hold. The story’s small panels still manage to incorporate a fair number of the cropped close-ups that are something of the artist’s trademark, and the narrative slides into the territory between dark comedy and just plain dark. It’s not all that funny, but it’s presented in too matter-of-fact a way to be thoroughly depressing.
The last story, “TRANSLATED, from the JAPANESE,” is more visually-striking than the two preceding, incorporating a spectrum of colors and obscuring the faces of its figures for the majority of the narrative. Tomine renders the landscapes and airport-scapes softly, appropriate to the snowy weather outside. And although the story is short and open-ended, it works as a kind of poem or moment in time.