Adrian Tomine's cult comix series Optic Nerve is finally collected into one sharp-looking hardcover graphic novel. Described as the Raymond Carver of comix, Tomine constructs tales of emotional disconnection with an ear for painfully real dialogue. Combined with his deft black and white depictions of urbane lifestyles, Tomine's fans have often accused him of eavesdropping in on their most intimate moments and, with forensic skill, laying their lives bare. The conflicts between emotional gratification, narcissistic neediness and moral discernment mark the title story - "Summer Blonde" - in which a socially crippled man nurses an obsessive crush on a young woman. He watches close up, paralyzed by his guilt, as her beauty catches the eye of his neighbor: a hip, selfish young man with a short attention span. One ofOptic Nerve's most popular stories, `Hawaiian Getaway,` features Hilary, telephone service rep who is having the worst week of her life. She lost her job, her apartment, and her grandmother. Close to the edge, she is losing her grip. Reaching out to random strangers on the phone, Hilary is looking for someone to help her. In "Alter Ego" a successful young author has writer`s block. He can`t, or won`t, decide between another ghostwriting gig and finishing his second 'real' novel. He stalls on committingto his novel and his girlfriend when a chance postcard leads him to flirt with fantasies of changing the past. Finally, "Bomb Scare" documents the early unease of his generation by setting this coming-of-age story during the tense months of the Gulf War, the event that ushered in the 1990s.
From the book jacket, I learned that the merit of Tomine's work has been hotly debated. From what I can gather, many of his characters tend to be hipster emo types who bewail lack of meaningful connection with others in their lives. I thought their connections were deeper than that though. I thought Dan Raeburn, who wrote the introduction on the book jacket, summed it up well when discussing the similarity between many of the characters- they are all seeking human connection in an increasingly alienating world. These stories were much more about creating emotion than sparking intellectual thought for me. And I need to create a new word to describe what these stories made me feel. Aching-sympathetic-identification with a touch of thankfulness? That's not quite it, but I think maybe the best I'm going to be able to do.
I enjoyed story "Bomb Scare", regarding the young man who is picked on in school and mocked for exclusively haning out with just one other boy. I drew many similiarities to my own personal 6th grade expereince. The young man's willingness to sell out his friend in hopes of just a chance at increasing his stature with a more popular girl. Hit it right on the mark for me. Reading it today in 2009 in the midst of the second Iraq war, I also found an odd convergence in the way the first gulf war is portrayed. It took the C and C music factory cassette to make me realize we were back in 1991, not 2003.
Overall, a fine group of stories with impressive artwork that brings out the subtle machinations of the character's psychology.
I found the way the stories ended to be very intriguing. They seemed to cut off just before the expected sad/happy ending. But, I enjoyed that. That's what life really is - a cycle of stories that don't always have a storybook ending.