In this deeply personal book, Adrian Tomine dredges up a vast array of embarrassing personal memories from his career, gently interspersed with a few moments of wonder. The thrust of the book is deliberately professional. He isn’t baring his soul here, but exposing the sharp end of life as a comic creator. At times this overlaps with his personal life, but his relationship with his partner and the births of his daughters, for example, don’t appear unless they’re circumstantial to a chance meeting with a fan or invited to a reading. There’s also nothing of the craft in here. This isn’t about being a cartoonist but the things that happen around it.
The resulting series of short comic vignettes are sharp and well-formed. Tomine is a master of such art and, as individual comic anecdotes, there’s little to critique. The stories are funny, knowingly cringy and deliberately dysfunctional. The inevitable result, perhaps, when an insecure, insular artist is pushed into social situations and required to promote his work. He’s firmly established in the hinterland of mainstream comic success, where (to use one of his own examples) he’s invited on the cruise ship to give talks to and dine with comic fans, but everyone on his dinner table is craning their necks to try and hear what Neil Gaiman is saying on the table next door.
This tumbling embarrassment seems endless. Tomine’s early work gained plenty of good press but placed him amongst a movement of comic auteurs working in a similar vein, such as Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. Even using his own status to meet his childhood comic heroes turns to embarrassment and disappointment.
The format of the book is worth noting. It’s designed to look like a Moleskine-style notebook, with an elastic strap, a ribbon bookmark and carefully drawn out on squared paper. However, while this might give the initial impression of a sketchbook, this is a fully-formed and sharply illustrated book. The panels are uniform squares, arranged in two columns and three rows on every page, with only a single exception.
And this is perhaps where the critique comes in. It’s relentless: 160 pages of solid, self-deprecating awkwardness. The final story is a bit longer and has an element of redemption to it, as Tomine works through a medical incident and takes stock of his life. But is this enough to trigger the end of a chapter and the start of a new one, where marriage and childbirth could not? Only time (and Adrian Tomine) can tell.