SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly), 104 pages, $22.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
Adrian Tomine has been compared to filmmaker Eric Rohmer, but in Shortcomings he seems more like Woody Allen - that is, if Allen were Asian, 30-something and had started out on the West Coast instead of the East. Tomine's a funny/serious chronicler of urban relationships, and this is his Annie Hall.
Ben Tanaka is a judgmental, slightly insecure schlub working in a Berkeley movie theatre. When his girlfriend, Miko, moves to New York for an internship, he's stuck hanging out with his promiscuous dyke best friend, Alice, and reluctantly begins dating again. Then he finds out what Miko is really doing in Manhattan.
Readers of Tomine's previous books will recognize not only the perfect cadence of his characters' voices (I guarantee you'll know these people) but the subtle artistry of his drawings. Few graphic novelists can suggest as much with the angle of an eyelid or the tilt of a head. An extended scene in a parking lot - much of it silent - is rich with complicated emotions.
Look for a couple of visual jokes at the beginning of chapters: some panels make us think we're entering a different kind of narrative and then take a turn. Other graphic tricks play with dialogue bubbles. Even the flower pattern on the dust jacket takes on resonance by the final chapter.
But what's so thrilling about this book is that it marks the first time Tomine, a fourth-generation Japanese American, has dealt with his ethnicity in a sustained way. He gets it completely right, from the constant debates about stereotypes and representation to less often voiced feelings of sexual anxiety and paranoia.
Tomine is interviewed by Sheila Heti October 27, 3 pm, in the Studio Theatre.
Getting more graphic
Besides Adrian Tomine, two other Drawn & Quarterly graphic novelists are on the IFOA slate, and they both have politics on their mind.
Acclaimed in her native Israel, Rutu Modan makes her North American publishing debut with Exit Wounds , about a young Tel Aviv man who discovers that his father may have been killed in a suicide bombing.
James Sturm , meanwhile, puts his own spin on the land of the free and the home of the brave in James Sturm's America: God, Gold And Golems , an inventive recreation of lesser-known moments in his country's history.
Both graphic novelists read Saturday (October 20) at noon in the Brigantine Room.