When I finally sat down to work on my next comics project, I felt obligated to attempt a real “graphic novel.” I was looking at these giant tomes that some of my peers were working on, and I felt really envious of that kind of achievement. It also just seemed like that was the direction everything was moving in, and my old habit of publishing short stories in the comic book format was already an anachronism. So I pursued that for awhile, doing a lot of the kind of preparatory work which is actually the hardest part for me, and the whole time I had these nagging thoughts like, “Do I really want to work on this for ten years? Do I want to draw and write in the same way for that long? Does the material really merit that much of an investment?”
I actually completed about twenty pages of this material — completely written, drawn, and colored — and I still couldn’t shake the growing suspicion that I was headed down the wrong path. The scope of the project was completely draining any amount of joy from the work for me. Then when my daughter was born and I essentially became a stay-at-home dad, that really changed everything. I felt like that needed to be the main focus of my life for the time being, and I’d need to find a way of working that would accommodate that. So returning to short stories seemed like the right solution, and now I honestly think that, at least at this point in my life, it’s the mode that I’m best suited to. I love being able to draw twenty pages in one style, finish that story, then start the next one completely fresh.
—Optic Nerve cartoonist Adrian Tomine tells CBR’s Jorge Khoury about his failed attempt to create a big fat graphic novel in the vein of…well, pretty much everyone in literary comics these days, I guess. Anytime I read about lost projects and abandoned pages like this I feel a twinge of regret, but it seems to have led Tomine to an epiphany about the kind of work he wants to be doing and the kind of life he wants to be living. If that’s failure, then we should all fail more often.
The last two pages of Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12 look like the roughest and most quickly considered and drawn pages in the entire issue, but they are also the funniest, and the most concerned with the quickly disappearing format of alternative comics like Optic Nerve.
In two black and white, 20-panel-grid pages that most closely resemble the style and tone of Tomine’s recent Scenes From an Impending Marriage, Tomine’s unshaven avatar in opaque spectacles gets lauched at by his fellow cartoonists when one refers to him as “The Last Pamphleteer.”
Stewing about the fact that the bound, book format has (what we commonly if not quite accurately refer to as “the graphic novel”) has become the default format for (non-superhero) comics, he laments sticking with “floppies”: “I even liked it when the artist was obviously just trying to fill a few extra pages, and you’d get a pointless, dashed-off autobio strip or something!”
Tomine works in an awful lot of jokes in so few pages, and rather masterfully fills those many panels so the art never looks small or claustrophobic (I read Optic Nerve #12 before and after this week’s Justice League #2, and I get such a case of whiplash reading superhero comics and “art” comics; people sometimes wonder why I’m so negative about super-comics, but how can one not be when you see the quality vs. quantity gap between a Big Two pamphlet and an issue of Optic Nerve?), eventually culminating in what is a (hopefully highly) fictionalized encounter with a comics reader at a shop signing.
The dashed-off autobio strip is endearing in the way it allows Tomine to honestly express his feelings about his chosen format and the way the industry is currently going, while also rather mercilessly ridiculing those feelings.
There are several arguments to be made for floppies (“Which is about as withering a terms as I’ve ever heard,” the Tomine character thinks in one panel), and while Tomine makes a couple of them, I think he left out one of the more compelling ones: Neither of the excellent stories in Optic Nerve #12, which are graphic short stories more than graphic novels or even graphic novellas, could have been published as books. They’re just too short to justify a book, and, I think, the expense of purchasing them.
Welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest today is Chris Duffy, editor of First Second’s Nursery Rhyme Comics. We spotlighted this anthology project all week here on Robot 6; check out our interviews with Chris as well as contributors Scott C., Aaron Reiner, Richard Sala and Eleanor Davis.
And to see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.
If I had $15, I’d start with Demon Knights #1 ($2.99) and Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE #1 ($2.99). I’m excited about a lot of the DC Dark corner of the New 52; especially these two. Frankenstein is a continuation of the only Flashpoint series I stuck with and features one of my two favorite characters from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory. I wasn’t that interested in Demon Knights at first, but I was impressed by Paul Cornell’s chasing down a female fan after a panel at San Diego to pitch the series to her as something that people who are looking for great, female characters will enjoy. And I’ve been wanting to dig deeper into Cornell’s work anyway. On the Marvel side, I’m still thrilled about how well Alpha Flight is doing (creatively, I mean, but I guess it must be doing okay in sales too), so #4 ($2.99) is a must-buy for me. And I can’t wait to see how Mystery Men ends with #5 ($2.99). That’s been one of the high points of my summer, comics-wise. Finally, I’d grab X-Men Legacy #255 ($2.99) to dip my toe a little deeper into the X-Men world after being away from it for a while.