Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and the Minimalist Comic

Adrian Tomine’s 2007 full-length collection Shortcomings is realism at its finest.

Initially released in 2004, the serial quickly gained momentum with the media when it was named by Entertainment Weekly as “What not to miss” in regards to yearly publications. They weren’t wrong.

Shortcomings explores the psychological ramifications of dating in a world fraught with insecurity, doubt, emotional duplicity, and deception. The collection follows Ben Tanaka, a Japanese cinema owner from California inherently disinterested in dating members of the same ethnicity, thus illustrating a sort of self-hatred and malaise toward both cultural/Asian stereotypes.

There are two things that astound me about the comic: its realism and by proxy–it’s minimalism. The dialogue is seamless, poignant, and powerfully grounded in actuality. Every panel is dramatic, but never does Tomine take the easy way out and carry his comic down the easier-to-control/astound melodramatic path. His world is intricately intertwined with our own.

Tomine’s illustrations are as plain as they get. The book is done in black and white, and the action in the story is entirely verbal. There are dinner parties, lunches, small get-togethers between men and women, in essence reality. There are no fight scenes, no elaborate splash pages, no color–rather, Tomine demonstrates a welcome sense of restraint and delicacy in handling a subject as difficult to take on as the cultural norms as they pertain to dating.

Initially, I was indifferent to the book as a whole, but on closer inspection, it’s clear Tomine wields a deft hand in comics. I only wish he’d give me more.

Stars = 4/5

To Be An Expert

I recently read that in order to become an expert in a particular field or subject one must practice/engage/hone a specific skill for a minimum of 10,000 hours (the equivalent of 1,250 8-hour work days)–which brings me to a subject that seems to become increasingly more important as I get older–that of expertise.

I think a necessary aspect of humanity is that of drive, which is nothing more than the abstract representation of a desire for expertise.

We all long to be the best. Be it an athlete, mathematician, writer, scientist, competitive eater, no matter what the field our passion to be the greatest is the very essence that gets us up in the morning. It’s that which keeps us in the gym after work and the lights on well-past quitting time.

Personally, I aspire to be a writer. This isn’t a secret, nor is it something I hide from my friends, family, fiancé. They all know it, and encourage, and I’m thankful for their encouragement. With that said, based on the above it’ll be a staggering number of years before I’m ever able to consider myself an “expert” in writing. I can teach the craft to high-school students until my lips turn blue, and for some reason that edge toward expertise will never be reached–the carrot perpetually dangled but never fully grasped.

Philosophically, I wonder if anyone ever truly considers themselves “experts” in their field. The examples of humility from the greats are too many to count. Haruki Murakami didn’t start writing until his early 40’s and yet, despite global success as an author, he still exhibits the puerile sense of language that borders on the jejune. He’s an adolescent trapped in an elderly man’s body that consistently turns out some of the most intriguing prose today.

Take sushi chef Jiro Ono who has literally devoted his entire life to making the world’s best sushi (see Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Here’s a man who slaves over literally every intricacy of his food, his craft, his livlihood in order to make it supremely “perfect.” Expert? Absolutely. Although, I would wager to bet that were Jiro Ono asked about his own expertise, he’d claim he’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s still honing his skills to somehow, someway, get better.

But such dedication is necessary toward pursuing that which makes us whole, and growth is always at the forefront of experience. I just wonder if expertise is the intangible equivalent of finance–the idea that there’s never enough money in the bank to satiate our limitless desires.

Expertise itself seems to be the spawn of what makes Buddhism such a universally satisfying ideology in that it professes relinquishment of the very thing that drives us–it professes the need to rid ourselves of want, of desire, of hunger itself.

But the point still stands. We all have an innate sense of thirst or hunger for the need to be an expert.

What’s your expertise?

Escapism: A Discussion

As an avid reader, escapism seems to be the name of the game. I read for a number of hours a day without fail, without remorse, without reservation. I long for the experiences of others. I long for thoughts and actions of the greatest minds of our kind so that I might be able to make some sort of sense out of my own.

To some extent, books are the instruction manuals for how to live a life–for better or worse.

But as much as I try, I can’t get past the thought that inherent in the act of reading is the act of escapism. That in order to experience the lives and actions of others we must break outside our own present–which to me strikes a harsh chord against the idea of “presence” in life.

The sad (maybe?) part of it all is the truth that we’re all escapists.

No matter what our poison, be it books, movies, television, music, we’re all longing for that clean, well-lit place that Hemingway so beautifully penned in the 1930’s and people like Tolkien and Lewis made fantastical for even further gratification.

We’re all longing for a sense of home in the things we experience, when for most of us, the very act of sitting down to consume whatever media we’ve got is the essence of home. Our media (books included) has become a perverse sort of hearth we gather around for our own sense of appeasement.

But is this a good thing? As hard as this is to admit: what’s the difference between escaping into the pages of a book vs. the pixelated glow of a screen? Obviously one is more linguistically advanced than the other, but the idea is the still the same. Regardless of media or format, we’re still diverging from the present for the seemingly greener pastures of the other.

Is escapism a good thing or a bad thing? What are your thoughts?

Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky

Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel about post-colonial Northern Africa is a torrent of existential malaise and estrangement from familiarity in a time where disconnection was more than the abandonment of technology–it was the abandonment of self.

The novel follows American couple Port Moresby and wife Kit as they attempt to reconcile marital issues via travel through Moroccan North Africa.

That said, what follows is the existential/psychological effects of separation of all that is habitual, commonplace, and routine, and how sometimes the best way to discover your truest sense of identity is to forgo the comforts of home and tap into the great beyond via travel.

Named one of TIME magazine’s top 100, this one is sure to astound in it’s simplicity and brilliance.

The Bushwhacked Piano

Thomas McGuane’s second novel, originally published in 1971 to critical reviews, is a hysterical commentary on the state of the American psyche seen through the eyes and lived through the misadventures of wayward entrepreneur Nicholas Payne.

Follow Payne as he pursues the hand of a doughty millionairess and joins sides with a double amputee con-man (the bionic man!) as they attempt to sell glow-in-the-dark bats that will rid entire towns of mosquitos overnight (or so they say).

One of the most uniquely funny and linguistically savvy voices in American Letters, The Bushwhacked Piano is the perfect balance of literary panache and buoyantly side-splitting hilarity.

Summer Reading: My Ultimate Top Five

It’s time to open up those windows and breathe in the glorious scent of freshly cut grass. It’s summer, and with the sweltering heat comes leisure time galore (if you’re me, and have summers off), and the prospect of books, books, and more books.

Thus my ultimate top five summer reads:

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

A tome of info on India, Shantaram is the story of Mr. Lindsay and his post-prison-break refuge in Bombay. He falls in with the Indian mafia, revels in slum-life, and explores the sights and sounds of a country known for it’s mellifluous and mirthful spirit.

Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

Greene’s 1958 Cuban spy-parody is a comic romp through the eyes of vacuum cleaner salesman James Wormold as he’s accidentally thrust into the world of top-secret MI-6 espionage during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Certainly, one of Greene’s more uncharacteristically hilarious novels, it’s without question the light-heartedly perfect pool-side read.

The First Man– Albert Camus

Discovered in manuscript form amidst the wreckage of the car accident that prematurely took Camus’ life, The First man is a departure from his more intellectually weighty works. It’s the story of childhood, sun, sea, and the life of a small boy growing up amidst the turmoil of French colonized Algeria. The perfect read for the isolatory deep-thinker.

The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac

The story of Ray Smith (Kerouac) and Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) as they explore the duality between aesthetics and buddhism, and how all ultimately converge with nature. Experience the free-wheeling world of youthful late night wine-drinking parties combined with the serenity that comes with supreme mountaintop isolation in this beautiful summer read.

The Complete Short Stories – Ernest Hemingway

Nothing spells summer like a good Hemingway story. Thus, why not read them all? From the bullfights in Pamplona to African safari mishaps, this essential collection is a perfect portrayal of a man who reached near-mythic status in his literary career. Far more accessible than one would think, The Complete Stories is the perfect beach companion for the serious literarist.

Note: these are my personal favorites, though I would be remiss not to include the glorious pleasure-filled reads of summer like Harry Potter, Stephen King’s It, and Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, all of which come together as some of the best summer reads out there.

Maintain Creativity Despite the Doldrums

photo-1421986527537-888d998adb74

Growing up, my brain was filled with the fleeting possibility of limitlessness. That the world was a place infinitely large, and that possibility held no boundaries–a house with no walls or barriers. You want to be a painter, be a painter! You want to be a professional crocheter, be a professional crocheter!

And yet, the crushing weight of adulthood has strangled the essence of creativity out of us all. In the pursuit of money and comfort, social status and necessity, many have lost their creative spark amongst the never ending piles of bills and emails that must be sent out that very day. So, the question begs to be asked–what is to be done?

Maintaining your creative side is an uphill battle. For the artist inside us all, there’s the perpetual distraction from what, deep down, we know to be the most essential of human pursuits–that is, to make life better. For the artist or aesthete, this manifests as an inexplicable drive that to most appears as nothing more tangible than scribbles on a sheet of paper or paint smears across a canvas. But to the artist or poet or writer, or whatever, it is something poignantly profound and impactful.

Thus: how do we maintain our creative spirit throughout our day-to-day working lives?

IMG_0127

Write: I believe that creativity is a mindset. We are constantly creating, but for most of us, this results in an intangible thought or expression that we happen to love, if only for the fleeting moment it exists in the air before being swallowed up by the conversation. I carry around a little notebook in my pocket to jot down all the minuscule tidbits of wisdom I hear throughout the day, and then expand those into pieces that possibly resemble what you’re reading now. Write it down and linger upon it. Contemplation of the world around us is always a good thing.

IMG_0126Read Everything: Read it all. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, newspapers, magazines, blogs (yup), instruction manuals. Reading has the power to take us into different climes and worlds. Why wouldn’t we want to escape once in a while? For me, though, the one type of text that has benefited my creativity is poetry. Its emphasis on allegory and metaphor is something that has come to inform not only my writing, but my reading of other forms as well.

Read a poem a day to insure those creative juices keep flowing. Read the tough stuff. The philosophical treatises. Read the books you’ve always dreamed of reading, and move past those bits of candy we call “young adult” and “new adult.” Dig into the meat of the literary world with ravenous hunger, because only then, will you recognize that creativity is not something you’re born with. It’s something you acquire, tooth and nail, along the way.

Be Bored: Probably the most counterintuitive of suggestions–boredom is the incubation chamber required to really let your good ideas develop into great ones. Be willing and able to beckon boredom into your life like a long-lost friend and take time (however brief) to let your mind wander. Let your thoughts drift aimlessly, and tune out the world for a moment. Let silence and muse into your life. Those moments of boredom will ultimately allow you to shift to the place where you will be able to take the chances and risks needed to truly create something essential.

Be fearless and create.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”  – Kurt Vonnegut: If This Isn’t Nice, What is? Advice for the Young