These days, Adrian Tomine is respectable. Published by Faber. He’s come a long way since Optic Nerve. In some ways he’s got a John Porcellino streak of amateurism without (we sense) John Porcellino’s more renegade unwillingness to play the game/self-sabotage. Adrian Tomine will do well. Quote-unquote. He is also getting better without quite giving the reader the sense that he has done his best work yet. From Summer Blonde through Shortcomings to this, Killing and Dying, we can see a writer improving. He is – to paraphrase the Beatles – getting better all the time. We can’t hope for more than that.
Killing and Dying is a collection of graphic short stories, six short stories to be exact, packaged beautifully with a transparent dust jacket and the kind of stark white lettering which will make this book appeal to the kinds of people who like to keep cool looking books on their coffeetables (those people). Right now in the history of his development, in addition to the outlook and perspective we’ve seen in his other books, Tomine seems perfectly pitched to appeal to fans of Daniel Clowes (in the first story, ‘A Brief History of the Art Form Known as “Hortisculpture”‘, Tomine breaks the story up into half page four frame ‘bits’ each of which has the title of the strip in the upper left – a device familiar to comics fans who followed Peanuts back in the day but which is most recognisable Clowes-ian these days) and Chris Ware (the clean lines of both ‘Amber Sweet’ and ‘Translated from the Japanese’ demonstrate that as perfectly as you would wish), whilst at the same time retaining and elaborating upon that thing which is most Tomine-like (which you could argue was similar to the way Oliver Stone switches between film stocks, in that Tomine switches styles between the cleaner line and a rougher, punkier aesthetic – best seen here in the shift from the affecting title story to ‘Intruders’, the story that closes the book).
Right now Tomine stands where Jonathan Lethem stood maybe a decade ago in relation to the likes of DeLillo. He has already demonstrated that he has the chops to do good work, and he stands at the doorway of greatness perhaps. Killing and Dying is a significant work, the kind of serious graphic collection that will be lapped up and mulled over by serious comic fans. Is there a question mark over whether we want stories in favour of a longer more sustained work? Possibly. Will it do for now? And then some.
Any Cop?: Serious and good, although not quite the hit out of the park that we would maybe have wanted at this point.