Drawn + Quarterly
(w/a) Adrian Tomine
While the old adage is to never judge a book by its cover, it is a sin we are all guilty of. This is especially true with comics, as the visual artistry is a core component of the medium. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with the work of Adrian Tomine. I had heard about his graphic novel Killing and Dying, and I was somewhat aware of his work in The New Yorker as well as his overall reputation. However, the decision to finally read The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist sprung from a desire to break from the regular grind serialized storytelling. While something different was to be expected, it ending up as one of the best reads of 2020 was not.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist on the surface is a very straightforward tale, as Tomine gives readers an autobiographical look into both his personal world and the world of comics as a whole. Much of Tomine’s personal growth is explored – as well as those elements that have persisted – from childhood to adulthood. Beginning with a grade-school prologue, Tomine’s self-reflection on his passion, insecurity and social exile due to this medium gives readers an immediate buy-in. Though John Romita fandom may not be universal outside comics readers, Tomine does touch on something more universal in these sequences. Not everyone loves comics, but everyone loves something that can result in insecurity. Perhaps it is cheering for an unpopular or rival sports team. Maybe it’s liking a certain type of music. On a deeper level, it could be sexual orientation, gender identity, or race. Whatever it may be, fear of rejection because of something we hold as core element of our self-identity is universal.
This is a common thread that is pulled through to the graphic novel’s end. Along the way, Tomine broaches many topics may only be known to industry insiders. At one point, the cliquishness of comics is on full display at the industry’s biggest award ceremony. Tomine makes it a point that someone that creates the type of work he does “shouldn’t” like the work of Frank Miller. This is a quick moment, taking up a couple panels within the space of a nearly 200-page work, and yet it says so much. Tomine is pointing out the perception within the industry that those whose works are published by “prestige” publishers like Drawn + Quarterly or Fantagraphics should view superhero or monthly comics at large as beneath them, and presumably vice versa. He bemoans this tribalistic mindset, as it limits readers from experiencing so much great material that spans the breadth of the medium. Even more, the notion of closing yourself off to new experiences and ideas because of predetermined prejudices is self-imposed ignorance. Rather, a willingness to try new things offers the possibility of self-enrichment.
These are just a couple examples of the depth to which Tomine examines his topics, of which there are many within the pages of Loneliness. Even if the topic seems a little inside baseball for readers – like the logistics behind book signings – the emotion which Tomine brings to the sequences make them instantly relatable. This has been an incredibly difficult and unpredictable year, but this graphic novel provides a bit of comfort thanks to Tomine’s consistent greatness.