Sunday, November 1, 2009

Touching the Fictional Nerve: Adrian Tomine's "Sleepwalk and Other Stories"

"Sleepwalk" is the most modern graphic fiction we have come up against in class. I'd encountered Tomine's work before in his graphic novel "Shortcomings". That story was about a socially awkward, indie-alt guy's relationship with a girl. In the same vein, this collection of stories follows various socially awkward guys and girls through relationships, beatings, voyeurism, and other assorted plot lines. What seems to connect Tomine's stories throughout is the way in which each story is unnerving, some more than others. The most overtly disturbing is "Pink Frosting". In twelve panels Tomine shows how one man's day goes from great to horrible, ending with the protagonist "biting the curb" (if you've seen "American History X" you know how disturbing this is). Others are more subtle, yet no less disturbing. Perhaps one that best typifies Tomine's incredible style of combining art and story in the most concentrated effective way is "Drop". In just four panels we learn of how a man accidentally dies by falling off the side of a reservoir while trying to change a tire. The darkly inked four panels only show the man in silhouette, we never get to see his face only his hand reaching towards nothingness as he falls "backwards through the darkness, filled with disbelief". Tomine's characters are quirky, some suffering from debilitating relationship issues as in "Sleepwalk" or the social awkwardness of being a teenager as in "Dylan & Donovan". Other than being quirky, all of his characters can be characterized as being "outsiders", people who by choice or no choice exist at the fringes of our society. My personal favorite from this collection is "The Connecting Thread". More text heavy then most of the stories in "Sleepwalk", "The Connecting Thread" follows a woman as she slowly realizes that a series of "I Saw You..." ads in the paper are about her. In the first panel we see her seated by the door of a coffee shop. It becomes clear she desires attention. She is at first excited and nervous about the possibility that someone may be enamored of her. But when the person who is supposed to have written the ads never makes him/herself known, and the ads continue to be printed each week, each time more personal, increasingly more stalkerish, the woman becomes terrified. At the end Tomine writes "Finally, not knowing what else to do, Cheryl stopped looking at the personals, and that week, the ads about her stopped appearing". Were there really ever any ads about her, did she make them up, is it true, is it fake? In true Alfred Hitchcock style Tomine leaves us spooked and intrigued, our minds twisted up in the plausibility and implausibility of each situation. Each story, in some way, leaves you lingering (in a good way), mulling over the plot line and outcome of the story. I suppose what makes Tomine so intriguing is that each story is accessible to the reader, even the more extreme ones like "Pink Frosting" are, in reality, perfectly plausible in our reality.

Until next time,

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