Adrian Tomine
Signing Summer Blonde,
a collection of Optic Nerve issues five through eight
Sunday, July 28, 4 pm
Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak, 274-1449

Since age 16, Adrian Tomine has been drawing and writing his Optic Nerve comics. His work is very smart, sweet, and sometimes autobiographical, about the mostly unfunny foibles of human beings, but connected by the same underlying theme: that of doomed hope--the knowledge of the unpredictability of the world, and the simultaneous desire to believe that we're not all just totally fucked.

Of course, this isn't played out literally; Tomine is too subtle for that. Instead, his characters live it out, usually through relationships made messy by insecurities, selfishness, and disorientation. They're familiar characters, if you're of a certain age and mindset, and there's a resignation and humanity to Tomine's stories--accompanying his characters' endearing life fumbles are their very real manifestations, drawn in his clean, simple (but not simplistic) style. Tomine has the matter-of-factness of a Hemingway, turned post-Cold War jaded and exposed to cooler music.

How do you feel the comic book audience has changed since you started publishing, especially with the popularity of Ghost World and more "serious topic" graphic novels?

When you talk about change in terms of the comic book audience, it really is something that happens very slowly, in tiny increments. It seems like there's some kind of mainstream coverage of "alternative" comics every few months or so, and maybe it has a cumulative effect on the public. Like, maybe if they read enough articles that say "comics aren't just for kids anymore," they'll start to believe it.

If there's been any kind of wider interest in alternative comics in recent years, I would have to attribute a lot of it to the successes of Chris Ware and Dan Clowes. Both had beautiful books published by Pantheon, which were in bookstores everywhere, and often filed in the "fiction" section (rather than in the Dilbert/Jeff Foxworthy/Dungeons & Dragons ghetto). Chris was included in the Whitney Bienniel, and of course, Ghost World (the movie) was very well reviewed and enjoyed by "normal" people who would usually never read a comic (like my parents).

A woman came to one of my signings recently, and she told me that she had never read comics before, but after seeing Ghost World, she started ordering comics online and was now a real enthusiast. I thought, if Dan's movie can get a very normal, middle-aged woman to come to a signing at a creepy comic book store, then that's a real achievement.

How and why do you think your characters have changed in the past five or so years?

My critics would say they haven't changed enough! And since all my main characters reflect some aspect of myself, I don't take that as a good sign.

Honestly, I think I've personally grown and changed a lot in the last five years, so I hope that will somehow trickle down to my characters eventually.

How do you think of your characters in relation to the world--where do they fit?

I think there's a range, but for the most part, they tend to not be of the happy, self-loving, successful type. The Bay Area is filled with people that I call "undercover crazy," meaning that they look perfectly normal, but just beneath that facade they're really damaged. And I think that might describe some of my characters. In other words, they might be the kind of person who goes to work, gets their job done, interacts with co-workers, but then goes home and cries into their pillow all night. But then again, I get a lot of response from people saying how much they relate to my characters, so maybe I'm just depicting a very universal part of human nature.

What motivates you?

The great thing about "alternative" comics is that, aside from some kind of personal fulfillment, the rewards one can reap are very minimal.

It's not like being in a rock band where suddenly you're a millionaire, you've got three girls in your bed at once, you're snorting coke, etc. So basically this tends to weed out the creeps who are seeking those kind of rewards, and you're left with these dedicated, obsessive types who do the work for no other reason than the fact that they enjoy it.

Personally, the main thing that motivates me is the accomplishments of more talented cartoonists. I'll read something like Love & Rockets, or Peanuts, or I Never Liked You, and I'll just feel so crummy about my own work. And then after I pick myself up off the floor, I feel determined to try to figure out why I'm not as good, and how I can improve. JULIANNE SHEPHERD