by Adrian Tomine

Hardcover, 2007




Montréal : Drawn & Quarterly, 2007.


A graphic novel in which Ben Tanaka tries to salvage his failing long-term relationship with Miko Hayashi, who suspects Ben is more attracted to white women, an accusation that cause their personal and political problems to reach a boiling point.

Media reviews

User reviews

LibraryThing member bluepigeon
Yes, you may not like the characters in Shortcomings. They may seem annoying, whining hipsters (is that what they are called in the bay area?) with racial hang-ups and immature college attitudes. But the dialogue and flow of the story is impeccable. Tomine has avoided some of the common mistakes in
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graphic novels today: Characters are not having unintentionally awkward and unbelievable conversations, neither are drawings seem unnaturally done to accommodate long monologues. In the end, you get a well-written and well-told story of a bunch of characters centered around the perpetually complaning Ben. Ben is not very likable, I admit. Nor his skirt-chasing lesbian best (only?) friend. Nor his inert girlfriend. But Ben is fascinating as he verbalizes the politically INcorrect stuff about race and about relationship dynamics. Perhaps because Ben is not so likable, we want him to be wrong about everything, but really, he is not always wrong, and he is not always just being an asshole. He is sometimes an asshole, and sometimes other people are assholes to him. He certainly has to figure some things out and clear his head a bit.
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LibraryThing member arsmith
interesting. i could totally see it as a movie in the same vein as "Ghost World," but entirely different. and of course, i love the best friend.
LibraryThing member poetontheone
The best thing about this graphic novel is Tomine's great skill in drawing. His lines and shadows are stark and mirror the cool ennui and distress emoted by his characters. Ben and his girlfriend are at each other's throats throughout, and it's hard to tell who is more annoying. Ben's interactions
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with her, with his friend Alice, and with everybody else make us ponder about stereotypes, ethnic identity, and problematic masculinity.
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LibraryThing member jasonlf
Engrossing from beginning to end, this short graphic novel tells the story of a roughly 30 year-old Ben Tanaka and as his struggles for identity and love take him from the West Coast to the East Coast and back. What feels like a very realistic, moving and depressing depiction of a failing
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relationship, searches for new ones, and debates over identity, prejudice, and stereotyping. Plus an excellent lesbian sidekick character.
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LibraryThing member subbobmail
I've always like Adrian Tomine's artwork -- so clean! so quietly expressive! -- and now I've read his book-length story, Shortcomings. It's all about Ben, an Asian-American guy with an Asian-American girlfriend who seems to have a fetish for white girls. He's very touchy about this; he's very
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touchy about everything. He's not a pleasant person, Ben. Tomine has a knack for creating characters you wouldn't want to sit beside on a bus, yet you'll be happy to follow them through the pages of a book to see what happens to them. Does Ben learn or grow? Well...maybe. His girlfriend has shortcomings of her own, as do all the other characters, and Tomine makes you understand them, even if you can't like them. There's no hugging and no learning. Tomine's work fascinated me because it's graphically immaculate and emotionally messy.
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
This is painfully familiar territory for most of us -- the relationship that has been over for months, but neither person wants to admit it, until there is a crisis. In "Shortcomings", the crisis comes when Miko is offered an internship to New York City and away from her inadequate boyfriend, Ben.
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The stark graphic style enhances the realistic dialogue as the couple realize, but don't want to admit, that they don't even like each other any more. The novel is further made interesting by the theme of racialism and acceptance in mainstream society. If you are attracted to a person of another ethnic group, are you free from stereotypes or just accepting ethnic sexual mystiques? The most entertaining character is Alice, a cheerfully horny lesbian who brings Ben to a party as a date to deceive her parents. They are not amused, as Ben is of Japanese descent, and they are Korean. "Were you guys arguing, or is that just the way your language sounds?", muses Ben. The novel reveals the simple truth -- relationships suck.
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LibraryThing member dczapka
Adrian Tomine's graphic novel, his first attempt at a sustained narrative, is an unusual work. It tries to be controversial in its subject matter but is remarkably staid in its visual elements, a combination that wants to say profound things about its characters but doesn't quite have the punch to
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get all the way there.

The text traces the tumultuous relationships of Ben Tanaka, a young Asian man living in California who runs a dilapidated movie theatre and can't seem to keep his personal life on track. His girlfriend accuses him of fantasizing solely over white women, and when he's not defending his own racial and sexual politics, he finds himself pressured to indulge in those very fantasies for which he is accused.

In dealing with the complex issues of race and sexuality, Tomine has some interesting things to say but doesn't quite possess either the language or the ability to work them into a natural, meaningful conversation. His characters seem too much like authorial mouthpieces when they slip into politicizing, to the point where some of the most profound moments are those where he intentionally holds the explanation or conflict just out of our reach.

The visual aspect of the book, on the other hand, does not attempt to overreach any particular boundaries. Ben is a static, unchanging character and the art reflects this with its almost totally consistent 3x3 panel style. Though there are some interesting visual moments -- most often as a result of Tomine's use of subtly changing but otherwise repeating panels, as in the final page -- the art, like Ben himself, does not challenge the medium. At times, one wonders why this particular tale should be told visually, but Tomine plants enough cues to keep the reader looking carefully at the art.

Nevertheless, with so little amongst the characters changing, it is somewhat frustrating to work one's way through this text. I'm sure Tomine believed that leaving things open-ended was meant to inspire discussion, but ironically enough, it doesn't seem like he created enough in Shortcomings to warrant that level of discussion.
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LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
I enjoyed this book because Tomine isn't afraid to analyze some of the intricacies of identity in America. I can see why some readers might be upset by some of the commentary by Ben, main character. My favorite part is when Ben approaches Miko and her new boyfriend in New York, and the boyfriend
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pulls the kung fu out. So typical, so hilarious. I'm looking forward to reading his other books.
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LibraryThing member dst
A short and bitterly funny story about a prick of a guy, his insecurities and inability to see them.
LibraryThing member mich_yms
This graphic novel is generally about a Japanese man in America. Ben Tanaka has a Japanese girlfriend, but their relationship seems to be quite rocky and uncertain. His girlfriend Miko suspects that Ben has issues with being Asian in a predominantly white country and society, but Ben does not admit
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to such a thing, and instead starts to push his girlfriend away.

At the same time, Ben befriends a white chick from work. While Miko is away, Ben tries to woo a couple of girls (specifically noted to be of non-Asian ethnicity), only to have issues in the end. Ben’s closest friend is a Korean lesbian, Alice, whose parents hold a grudge against all Japanese people in general, due to what happened in World War 2. And to top it all off, Ben finds out about a secret that his girlfriend had kept hidden from him, and everything becomes unstuck.

I suspect that this graphic novel was given the title Shortcomings because of the nature of the main character, Ben. He has, indeed, some very glaring shortcomings character-wise.

For me, the graphic novel itself comes up short as well. Though the overall theme of the story is mainly about racism and how much of it is part of our lives, I feel like it hardly dwells enough with the issue to make an impact that matters. So many things felt like we just got the cream on top, and none of the strong coffee that was sitting underneath.

Graphics-wise, everything was very clean-cut and tidy, but somehow it lacked the energy that I would otherwise have expected of a graphic novel that intends to deal with an issue this heavy. Everything felt constrained and contained within nice square boxes, whereas the core of the story deals with the issue that over-generalising people into tidy boxes just does not cut it.

It being a graphic novel and all, it was an easy read. I would have wanted a lot more depth, but I guess, there will be books that have their shortcomings.
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LibraryThing member kristenn
I love Tomine's art and I've enjoyed a lot of his short stories. The problem with this one is that I disliked every single character so much that I can't really say I enjoyed it. I was certainly impressed by it though. And they were all very realistic jerks.
LibraryThing member debnance
I moved from reading Ginger Pye to Shortcomings, a typical book for this generation of young readers. The main character is a miserably unhappy fellow, in his early 20’s, who has an awful job and terrible relationships. He alienates his girlfriend and irritates most of the other people in his
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life. He bungles through his daily life, never feeling joy or even small moments of contentment. The book ends (and this will surprise no one who reads books of this type) with our fellow returning to his pathetic life, sans girlfriend, minus his one friend, hoping that somehow things have changed for the better. Yeah, right.How did we go from Ginger Pye to Shortcomings? Have people really gone from having lovely lives to living every day on the edge of suicide? Where are all the Ginger Pye books of 2008? Are people really Shortcomings-miserable?
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LibraryThing member phebj
While I thought this book was well done, I didn’t like the characters very much--too many shortcomings. (Another LTer referred to them as “realistic jerks.”) The main character, Ben, is a 30 year old Japanese American whose Japanese American girlfriend is unhappy about his attraction to white
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women. Unfortunately, this racial element was the only thing that was interesting about their crumbling relationship. I’ll try another one of Tomine’s books but I wouldn’t recommend this one.
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LibraryThing member KatPruce
This was my first foray into the realm of graphic novels! Unfortunately, as excited as I was to finally introduce myself to this genre...this book solicited a "meh" response and not much else.

I realize why it is a critic's darling. It deals with weighty issues such as race, stereotypes,
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relationships and identity. The illustrations are well-drawn (not that I'm much of an expert in this area). Yet, it just wasn't my kind of story. The protagonist is extremely unlikeable (whiny, self-absorbed, get the picture). Unfortunately, the other characters do not distract the reader from his gloominess. In fact, with the exception of his best friend Alice, the supporting characters are pretty one-dimensional...I could not have cared less about their fates. Also, the story ends on a not-so-happy note (I won't elaborate so as not to spoil but I will say it was lacking somewhat).

Despite all of my hangups about this novel, I think it would make for interesting discussion - whether in a classroom or amongst friends. Perhaps it is simply meant to make you pause and think about some of these issues...
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LibraryThing member questbird
A relationship drama about an Japanese American who is in the process of splitting up with his girlfriend. The book explores the themes of Asian identity in America, sexuality, east vs. west coast and how to move on from past relationships. The main characters Ben and Miko take themselves a little
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too seriously. The funniest character is Ben's friend Alice, who is smart, shameless and always out for a good time.
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LibraryThing member mawls
A well-written sad story about the end of a relationship.
LibraryThing member kirstiecat
This book really is closer to a 3.5 actually imo. I thought the topic was really very interesting and insightful into both issues related to relationships in the Asian community and the lesbian community in California and there's an interesting aspect of feeling lacking and wanting on a
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geographical level too between California and NYC.

I guess the real problem for me is that I think, despite the fact that graphic novels usually do tend to be shorter in length, this was just too short to explore all of these issues fully.

Also, I really disliked the main protagonist, which is kind of a deal breaker for me. I did think Tomine did a great job exposing the main character's double standards, though. I would love to see an even more complex expansion on this topic. Great drawings, too!
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LibraryThing member amelish
Shortcomings raises a lot of questions. They're about identity (racial, sexual, gender roles related) and self-esteem and other things both serious and non-serious, and while the questions themselves weren't new to me, the painful lack of resolution at book's close reminded me that knowing the
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questions is a far cry from knowing the answers. In fact, knowing the questions merely confirms the unknowable nature of these answers we're looking for by challenging the possibility of existence, past/present/future, of answers at all. Hard to say if this book is about an awakening or a reckoning, both or neither.
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
Engrossing from beginning to end, this short graphic novel tells the story of a roughly 30 year-old Ben Tanaka and as his struggles for identity and love take him from the West Coast to the East Coast and back. What feels like a very realistic, moving and depressing depiction of a failing
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relationship, searches for new ones, and debates over identity, prejudice, and stereotyping. Plus an excellent lesbian sidekick character.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I had some thoughts on Shortcomings after I finished reading it a month and a half ago, but those thoughts are lost to me now. Here's what I remember. I like Tomine's art style, as always. I have limited exposure to graphic novelists, but Tomine is by far my favorite with his crisp, realistic,
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detail-driven images. This story had its moments of greatness, but overall, I recall a sense of self-indulgence overshadowing any points the story could've successfully addressed. Shortcomings comes nowhere near the beauty and heartache of Killing and Dying, but it was still a visual treat and a very short read.
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LibraryThing member MaryMcConnell
This book is hilarious. But I'm Caucasian and 60 and have been married to a Japanese man the same age as me for 21 years. It's not another graphic novel, but I highly recommend Where the Body Meets Memory by David Mura for a great dive into Japanese-American assimilation issues.
LibraryThing member Eoin
4.5 Clean, shockingly beautiful drawings hold the messy ambiguity of relationships between people in their twenties and the difficulties of the "model minority". Perfectly made, the only downside is that I read it in an hour. Worth it for the panels without words.
LibraryThing member pivic
This is a straight-forward book that follows an anti-hero; the protagonist doesn't really care for his girlfriend, who tries to get their relationship to work.

It's safe to say that watching him, the torpid, vacant man, sulk and complain himself through life is a gnarly, look-yourself-in-the-mirror
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kind of experience.

Well written, interesting and human. Definitely makes me read more from this author.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
I selected this one because I wanted to read more from Asian-American authors. The graphic novel’s protagonist is such a jerk that it’s hard to care what happens to him. He’s selfish, shallow, depressed, and angry about everything. Overall I wasn’t a fan, though I do appreciate the brave
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approach to delicate issues.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
I thought it was an interesting character study, with good, believable characters. I found it a little depressing on the whole, but quite engaging.



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