Adrian Tomine


Written by Will Bingley
27 Wednesday 27th January 2010

Adrian Tomine is widely considered one of the finest cartoonists and illustrators of his generation. His recent work is ranked alongside that of the iconic Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. While he continues to work on his ongoing series Optic Nerve (currently entering its 15th year of publication), he’s also illustrator of choice for the New Yorker and his newest book Shortcomings has generated critical and popular acclaim. For a man who began his career personally Xeroxing copies of his comics for distribution, and who stubbornly chooses to work in a medium as deliberately obscure as Independent Comics, his success is quite astounding. Will Bingley got in touch for a chat.

So, how is the world of Adrian Tomine?

All is well in the world of Adrian Tomine.

I hear you’re on your way to the Angouleme Comics Festival. I’ve never been but it’s supposed to be amazing.

I’ve never been to the Angouleme Festival either, but it’s something I’ve wanted to experience for a long time. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m very honored to be invited. I expect (and hope) that it will be quite different from the big American conventions.

Everyone says they love all their children equally, which most of the time is a lie. Do you feel like that about your work or do you have a secret favorite?

Are you calling my mom a liar? The truth is, when it comes to my work, I’m more like a brutal critic than a doting parent. If there was any kind of competition, it would be over which work of mine I have the fewest qualms about.

You’ve been writing Optic Nerve for at least 15 years. Do you think there will ever be a moment when it reaches a natural ending point?

I’m fortunate in that as my work has evolved, the title Optic Nerve has been vague enough that I could continue using it. I think at this point, the title might simply be shorthand for “whatever Adrian is working on.” Issues regarding the business of comic books in North America are making it increasingly difficult for publications like Optic Nerve to survive, but I, as a lifelong fan of the format, intend to at least go down swinging.

Your work is quite political, if not overtly so. Do you think Obama and the end of the Bush campaign will have an effect on it?

I’m typing this only moments after Obama’s inauguration, so such matters are certainly on my mind. I have no idea how any of it will affect my work, other than, perhaps, that I will be approaching my job with an unprecedented feeling of relief and optimism.

Your connection with Daniel Clowes is pretty well documented, as is the influence you’ve drawn from Herge and Jamie Hernandez. I’d be interested to know if there’s anyone outside of comics who’s particularly inspired you.

I’m always drawing inspiration from the fields of cinema, graphic design, illustration, etc. But the most tangible inspiration, for me, comes from everyday experiences.

I loved the Push Man collections. How did you get involved with them?

I’ve been a fan of Tatsumi’s work for many years and it had been a long-gestating ambition of mine to see more of it translated into English. Essentially, I made a proposal to my publisher, and they consented.

How about your stuff for The New Yorker, and why do you think that your clean line style is in such demand these days?

Probably just because I’m punctual with their deadlines and I’m not too much trouble to work with.

You started writing comics when you were very young, and we can only guess the industry must have changed a fair bit since then. What would be your advice to guys who’re trying to break in these days?

My honest advice would be: Shut the fuck up. I wish someone had told me that when I was starting out. With even a little bit of success, it’s very easy to get cocky and to speak a little too freely when given a platform. I know no one would ever want or take this advice, but I really think the best thing to do when you’re starting out is say “no” to as many interviews as possible. Don’t criticize other people’s work, and just do the best work you can.

Adrian Tomine will be appearing at Gosh Comics for an exclusive signing on the 3rd February from 12:30 to 2pm.  See for details.

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