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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 196

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today, as I promised the other day, we take a look at Adrian Tomine’s first multi-issue story arc in Optic Nerve, “Shortcomings”…

Enjoy!

Sometimes, in fiction, the phrase “too much of a good thing” applies. What is good in smaller doses is not so good in large ones. However, when you’re dealing with someone like Adrian Tomine, whose bread and butter is developing characters, having THREE issues to develop the characters in his Optic Nerve three-parter, Shortcomings, is a good thing.

Be duly warned, however, that the protagonist of the story, Ben Tanaka, is not a great guy. He’s a pretty miserable person, really, but Tomine does such a strong job developing Ben and the rest of the supporting cast, as well as put them into interesting situations, that it is still enjoyable following Ben’s story, even if it is, by all accounts, a pretty depressing one.

The comic opens with Ben and his girlfriend, Miko, having yet another argument that seems to get at the heart of ALL of their arguments – that she is interested in their Asian heritage and he really is not…

Next to Ben, the most important member in the story is Ben’s best friend, Alice Kim, a friend since their undergraduate days…

In two of the most striking scenes in the first issue (heck, the whole story), Ben goes along with Alice as her “beard” at a family event, but learns that even in helping her with the whole “pretending not to be gay” thing, he is still opening her up to criticism from a different perspective…

and later, Miko discovers Ben’s supply of porn DVDs, but has a peculiar angle in her anger…

The story is driven by Miko getting a four-month internship in New York, leaving Ben alone in Berkeley. Even apart, they fall into familiar arguments (even as Ben secretly pursues a white girl)…

Later, he gets involved with a different white girl – this time a bi-sexual friend of Alice’s…

Ben can definitely be hard to handle, but his almost buffoonish sense of what is right and what is wrong is, if not charming, is at least pretty interesting to watch.

Really, perhaps a recurring them in this work is the idea of rationalization. Characters rationalize their behavior constantly in the work (to their parents, to their girlfriends, to their boyfriends, to themselves), and in their rationalizations, Tomine shows us insights into each of the characters.

Tomine’s art is good, and he does an especially nice job on character expressions. I have one sorta major beef with his art, though.

This character being white is a major plot point.

Now, if you tell me he’s white (or half-Jewish/half-Native American), then I’m not, like, incredulous, but the idea that you’re supposed to look at him and automatically get that he’s white – I don’t think that comes across.

But it’s not a huge deal – big enough that I thought I’d mention it, but it is not like it detracts from the story.

This story was collected into one volume titled Shortcomings.

13 Comments

Breaking Consumer News: Canadian book retailer ChaptersIndigo currently has the Shortcomings hardcover on sale in-store for $6. If you’ve been thinking about picking it up, were curious about Tomine’s stuff, or are just a cheap SOB, you probably can’t find a better deal than that. Check your local store for availability. (Not spamming, just noticed it while I was there the other day.)

Oh god, I LOVE this story. I think I have it both as Optic Nerve and collected as Shortcomings. Alice is one of my favorite fiction comic book females out there for sure. Great pick Brian.

Next thing you know, Layne will be recommending penile implants, cheap viagra and…crap…what else do spammers promote?

wow. This looks awesome.

Dean, since you and I seem to have similar general sensibilities even if we sometimes disagree on specifics, let me just say I read this recently and wholeheartedly recommend it.

Brian, as an aside, last year a commenter recommended the following idea as a possible recurring series of posts, even a weeklong one, and I think it would be awesome. I hope you consider doing it someday:
http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/04/10/a-year-of-cool-comic-book-moments-day-100/#comment-715133

This character being white is a major plot point.

Now, if you tell me he’s white (or half-Jewish/half-Native American), then I’m not, like, incredulous, but the idea that you’re supposed to look at him and automatically get that he’s white – I don’t think that comes across.

But it’s not a huge deal – big enough that I thought I’d mention it, but it is not like it detracts from the story.

Yes, I had the same gripe when I read the story. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if Tomine didn’t treat it like a given that his whiteness was obvious just from the visuals alone. It’s even more off-putting because the character is introduced to us speaking an Asian language, which makes one think even more that it must be an Asian character.

Like you said, not a huge deal, but still a misstep in an otherwise stellar book.

and later, Miko discovers Ben’s supply of porn DVDs, but has a peculiar angle in her anger…

The whole “your porn fantasies don’t resemble me” thing is not as peculiar an angle as one might think. Or maybe I just listen to too many relationship and sex advice shows and I’m suffering from selection bias.

funkygreenjerusalem

July 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

Now, if you tell me he’s white (or half-Jewish/half-Native American), then I’m not, like, incredulous, but the idea that you’re supposed to look at him and automatically get that he’s white – I don’t think that comes across.

I don’t remember having a moment’s hesitation about who that guy was.
For me, the way he’s presented, I knew him straight away, despite never having really met that guy.
I honestly can’t comment on the art take, because the way he’s introduced, through Ben’s eyes, I knew, and admittedly loathed, that character from the get go.

Checked this out of the library (!!! Till then, I don’t think they were carrying graphic novels of any sort, or if they were, they certainly never made the “new books” shelves) a few months ago but read only bits & pieces, not because of any problems with the strip but rather because I was in an odd space in which I found comics of any sort just plain inaccessible. (I’m coming out of that even as I type, somewhat slowly but also — knock wood — surely.)

In any event, yeah, not having done any deep reading of the contents at that time, till about 5 minutes ago, upon reading this, I assumed the main character is Asian.

In any event, yeah, not having done any deep reading of the contents at that time, till about 5 minutes ago, upon reading this, I assumed the main character is Asian.

He is.

The character I showed the two panels of at the end is a different character.

Aha! That’s what I get for reading even more quickly than usual!

PRETTY SURE that this 3-issue series was originally titled “White On Rice.” Dunno why the title was changed to (the admittedly less confrontational, for places like, say, Chapters/Indigo in Canada!) “Shortcomings.” Not sure which I prefer; neither is ideal, really.

Regardless: a superb story.

I quite enjoyed this story, and had no problems with the “Rice King” or whatever it is that Ben calls him. He seemed, in context, to be white to me.

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