For the first time as an adult I traveled to New York City in 2013. I stayed in Brooklyn and one of my first searches was for the nearest comic book shop.
I found that Bergen Street Comics was several blocks away and checked their website to make sure they had interesting stuff. Not only did they look like my kind of store, but they had a signing/book release scheduled for just a few hours later. Adrian Tomine was celebrating the release of the latest issue of Optic Nerve at the time, issue thirteen. Optic Nerve is of one of the few remaining comic book series being continually, if slowly, published that originated in the early '90s. This period was the last comics boom, when there were enough stores around to support the sales of periodicals that weren't all about genre. It's only been in the last several years that the market has been built up by fine retailers, like Bergen Street Comics, to support a market other than the top 50 sellers in the industry -- the Walking Deads, the company crossover events, your Jim Lee-drawn or Grant Morrison-written superhero books, etc, etc, ad nauseum.
The first time I shook Adrian Tomine’s hand was at APE Con in 1994 (or so), around the time of the release of the first issue of this very same series. I had purchased artwork as well, and had done the same in various venues in the intervening years. When I said “hello” to him, he was as genial as ever, and even noticed that I was familiar. It reminded me that in comics you can walk up to and have a conversation with the creators who shape and influence the field as though they were a friendly face from down the street.
Tomine has quietly improved his art and writing over the years. Steadily, glacially releasing new comics stories that add slighter layers of depth and subtlety. His draftsmanship has stayed roughly the same, with the only evident weakness being a somewhat posed figure form. In his illustration work, his most constant appearances in the world, usually at the New Yorker and its ilk, He has developed some tools that he doesn’t use in the comics, particularly the color and scene-building of these more dense illustrations.
His line work in the comics has taken on an ever-so-slightly rougher edge over the years, which serves to give his work its own signature. His writing has matured to a comfortable level of nuance. While it may be unfair to compare the writing to stories that came out more than a decade ago, that’s also only a 150 pages of comic work ago as well, so one must compare. As per usual, the stories are character driven, and they invite a re-read much more than stories from the first five issues of this same series do. Again, this seems like slow, but steady improvement. It’s nice to see him build his skills as a distinctive cartoonist, after shedding the artistic influences of his earlier work.
Issue fourteen, released roughly two years later, sees the trend continue. There is as much familiarity in his characters as there is distinctness, the sign of a thoughtful creator. There is even a story in this issue in which he departs from his clean-line approach and develops a rougher, more expressive line. This short, which honors deceased Japanese master Yoshihiro Tatsumi, uses a style of draftsmanship that is unique for Tomine in his oeuvre. I was happy to see this little experiment in action. The only comics work I can think of that came close was the short book he did about getting married, in which the art appeared to be closer to sketchbook style. The main story from issue fourteen uses a twenty-panel-per-page layout that is a welcome tool for using his typical, pen-drawn finished work. It also helps enhance the power of the form with a tight pacing per page that supports the arc of the story.
These two issues are a strong addition to the series, and to Tomine's legacy.