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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: 32 Stories

Posted by Alison Hallett on Thu, May 14, 2009 at 3:38 PM

645b/1242338986-scaled.tomine.jpg Timed to coincide with the paperback release of Shortcomings, Drawn and Quarterly just reissued the first seven issues of Adrian Tomine's comic Optic Nerve in a fancy box set that reprints the issues individually, instead of in a single volume as they'd previously been collected. The issues that comprise 32 Stories, as the seven collected minicomics are known, were self-published from 1991-1994, before Tomine was picked up by Drawn and Quarterly and Optic Nerve began running as a regular comic. The reissued pamphlets scrupulously replicate the originals, down to the fan letters in the back of each issue, the leap to a color cover in issue #6, and the incrementally increasing cover price (from $1 to a whopping $2 by issue #7).

The collection also includes an entire volume of apologia (bundled with a particularly embarrassing high school photo of Tomine on the cover). First there's Tomine's introduction to the 1995 book release of the comics, reprinted here in its entirety but footnoted for the new edition, as a rueful-sounding Tomine points out the little white lies he told the first time around. For example, "I think with this issue, my artwork became a little stiff: I was whiting-out each brush stroke until it was 'perfect,' and I obsessively drew every straight line using a ruler," Tomine wrote in the 1995 intro. "Nice try, Adrian," he writes in the footnote in the new edition. "The problem with the artwork in issue seven wasn't simply that it was 'a little stiff.' It's that it was completely overwhelmed by the influence of Danien Clowes's comic book Eightball." (It is, needless to say, charming stuff.)

There's a copy of a rejection letter from Drawn and Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros, handwritten in 1993, alongside a new note in which Oliveros roundly smacks his own forehead for rejecting Tomine's early submissions. "Here was the most prodigious new cartoonist of his generation, patiently and diligently mailing me new issues of his mini-comic, and this—this hand-scrawled letter written on the back of a JD King 'Beastniks' strip—was the best I could do?"

There's also a new intro for the new collection, in which Tomine explains that he was never comfortable with the "aggrandizing" book format in which these comics were originally reissued—that the humble pamphlet form is more appropriate to the quality of the work.

And while it's true that neither the art nor the writing in these issues is going to blow you away—Tomine was still in high school when he began self-publishing—it's completely remarkable to watch his work slowly develop, from the crude drawings of the first couple issues to a style that, while still relatively unpolished, is immediately recognizable as the one that frequently adorns the New Yorker and other such highfalutin' places. The art clarifies and sharpens with each issue, so subtly that you barely notice from comic to comic, but the contrast between issue #1 and issue #7 is staggering. This new reissue is most valuable, in other words, as a record of artistic evolution—it'd make a particularly good gift for any artsy kids in your life. For grown-up fans of Tomine, I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a must-have, but I'd definitely pick up this release of 32 Stories over the book version; it'd make a handsome addition to any collector's shelf.

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