Book Review: Killing and Dying

BOOKS_KillingAndDyingKilling and Dying
Adrian Tomine, 121 pages, Drawn and Quarterly, drawnandquarterly.com, $26.95

In the 12th installment of the Optic Nerve series, Adrian Tomine includes a short autobiographical epilogue. He describes his love of serialized comics, or “floppies,” and his own unwittingly assumed role as ‘The Last Pamphleteer.” Each issue of Optic Nerve is beautifully designed and packed with ancillary goodness, and yet in a current climate that favours the hardcover, Tomine finds himself torn.

Killing and Dying meets these pressures with a collection of stories from Optic Nerve #12–14, although their grouping here comes across as anything but arbitrary. The themes of killing and dying — taken from the title of a story from Optic Nerve #14 — are ideas that each piece deals with in its own way. In “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture,” we witness the slow disintegration of a creative passion; in “Go Owls”, a quietly desperate relationship falls into a cycle of violence.

Most of the killing and dying here occurs subtly, on an emotional rather than physical plane, incited by petty cruelties, unfortunate doppelgängers and self-doubt.

Humour arises at unexpected moments, only to be hushed abruptly by the following panel. The result is an inexplicably real glimpse into the contradictions and absurdities that any life has to offer. Tomine possesses an uncanny understanding of his characters, using simple, Raymond Carver-esque gestures to sketch his subjects.

The stories here are faithfully reproduced from each Optic Nerve issue, besides those ancillary features like fan mail pages and autobiographical excerpts. Like Tomine, I harbour a soft spot for these details, and yet Killing and Dying succeeds in sustaining his elegant design sense. This is an intelligent and cohesive collection of Tomine’s work, and one that will doubtlessly retain his position as one of this generation’s most piercing narrative voices — giving him more time, hopefully, to continue with his “floppies.” Long live the pamphleteer. (Ben O’Neil)

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