If I had to describe Adrian Tomine to someone who didn’t know his work, I would call him – I can’t possibly conjure any higher praise – the Alice Munro of comics.
–Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
Adrian Tomine released this collection a little over a year ago. A New York Times bestseller, its six stories reveal key moments and revelations in the lives of ordinary people.
Title: Killing and Dying
Writer and Artist: Adrian Tomine
First Published: 2015
“A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture'”: a man’s devotion to his newly-discovered art form causes stress for his family. Tomine eschews his more realistic style here, for something that recalls, somewhat, Hergé’s Tintin. It someone suits the world of a man creating bewilderingly strange art, with a revolutionary beauty only he seems to appreciate.
“Amber Sweet”: A young woman’s life experiences serious upheavals due to her resemblance to a porn star. Tomine does a remarkable job of conveying her paranoia as she senses people are talking behind her back, and drawing conclusions she cannot understand. The gossip and harassment affects her life profoundly. Then, after running away from one life, she encounters the infamous Amber Sweet.
“Go Owls”: A woman trying to overcome addiction problems falls into a relationship with a troubled man. He apologizes after each incident of abuse. Readers know their life together won’t end well, but may not anticipate how their relationship unravels.
“Translated from the Japanese”: A woman and her child fly to California to reconnect with the child’s father. We never see them; we learn about the characters through drawings of the things they see on their travels.
“Killing and Dying”: An awkward, stammering teenager whose mother has cancer tries to become a comedienne. The story’s actual focus is her father, and his reaction as his wife dies and his daughter fails to live up to her promise. Grieving people often do strange things.
“Intruders”: In one of the best and perhaps most bizarre tales, an out-of-work military veteran recovers the key to his old apartment. He begins spending his days there, without the knowledge or permission of its current occupant. His actions lead to a violent confrontation when someone breaks into the place.
Everyone will be drawn to different stories, assuming they expect character revelation in these comics, rather than superheroics. Some of the key moments are quiet and others, violent, but all feel entirely real.
The book has been packaged to resemble a conventional novel. While the stories deserve that presentation, the size reduces the individual images more than I would have liked.
Artwork: 5/6 Art and dialogue work together; each panel, haiku-like, captures the essence of a moment.
Tomine’s artwork is excellent, but I take issue with how it has been presented. We cannot fully appreciate it.
Stories: 5/6 Stories range from good to exceptional, and Tomine has matured as a writer. Some of his earlier works, while perhaps accessible to a broader audience, felt repetitive.
Characterization: 6/6 Killing and Dying features the most credible depiction of human beings in contemporary comix.
Emotional response: 6/6 Many of the stories do not end well; the title story is quietly heartbreaking.
In total, Killing and Dying receives 38/42