A few months ago, I was thrilled to read that Adrian Tomine was putting out another issue of Optic Nerve, the offbeat mini-comic I had “discovered” as a teenager. I started to get into underground and indie comics once I got to high school, while searching for something new and weird to read. A comic book shop I visited on a whim in NYC had a bundle of Optic Nerve mini-comics hidden in a longbox; I was immediately drawn to Tomine’s evolving artwork and his acerbic, dark humour.
This new installment has three stories, starting with Winter 2012, an autobiographical vignette reflecting his frustration with change in the art world. Go Owls is easily the darkest in #13, and the story unfolds in groups of 3-6 panels with time passage in between. It all adds to the greater story of addiction, minor league baseball, horrid relationships, and the finer points of drug dealing. The closing story, Translated from the Japanese, might be my favourite; I re-read it a few times, because the punch from the final panels is utterly devastating. From the first person perspective of a woman poised on the edge of a possible divorce,Translated is heartbreaking and honest.
Tomine’s sense of storytelling has always been strong, and his ability to convey a complete emotional experience with such preciseness is what I really enjoy about his comics. His work is always relatable and funny, with just the right touch of the uncanny. He changes his art style from story to story as well. Winter 2012 is simple black and white, very basic and to the point. Go Owls switches from black and white to sepia, to some blue tones and back again; the style here seemed more fast and loose, which goes with the characters. Translated from the Japanese is full semi-muted colour with a scrupulous, clean look. That story also focuses more on surroundings and locales in lieu of people, a thought-provoking choice. The fastidious composition of each panel seems to reflect the anonymous narrator’s facade of strength.
I managed to find this installment of Optic Nerve at a comic book shop across Los Angeles after a couple of failed attempts, so be sure to call ahead and see if your local place has it!
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