Adrian Tomine’s comics sit comfortably next to the giants of graphic literature. Like Chris Ware or Daniel Clowes he can conjure a slice of life that’s rich and poignant, as real as if you were peaking through your neighbour’s windows.
Killing and Dying is a dramatic-sounding title but, like everything in this beautiful book, it isn’t all it seems. It’s the title of one of the six short stories contained within, which is about a young girl dreaming of becoming a stand-up comedian. Her mother is full of encouragement, pushing this socially-awkward stammering teen to extend her boundaries and see how high she can reach. Her father, on the other hand, struggles to throw time and money at something that he doesn’t believe will ever be fulfilled.
All the stories in the book are about relationships and the interaction between couples, parents and children. There’s nothing forced about them, though – these are kitchen sink dramas you could imagine happening to anyone, all the more tragic because they’re so real and of our time. In another story, a working class man believes he’s discovered a new art form and tears his family apart trying to make it work. There’s a monologue about the break-up of a young family; another about a vulnerable woman sucked into the vacuous life of a domineering loser.
Tomine uses a slightly different style and technique on each story, which separates them but also binds them together. He draws us hard into the characters, though, so we can feel every nuance of their lives. This is extraordinary comics storytelling from a master of the form.