A collection of six previously published graphic stories of life’s bittersweet struggles, from illustrator/writer Tomine (New York Postcards, 2014, etc.).
The true magic of sequential art comes in the spaces between panels—where readers draw connections between separate, evolving images to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts—and here Tomine proves himself a wizard. In the title tale, a stuttering teenager pursues a dream of professional comedy while her supportive mother subtly progresses from unremarkable to brittle hair to bandanna and cane to absence—cancer running its course via signifiers and suggestion. The elegiac “Translated, from the Japanese” follows a mother and son’s journey from Japan to California to rejoin the boy’s estranged father, and while the panels—hewing closely to the mother’s point of view—contain no more than an arm of any central character, the averted gaze makes the mother’s discomfort palpable. Most playful is “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture,’ ” in which a dissatisfied landscaper dreams of taking the world by storm by growing plants inside bulky sculptures—an idea met with underwhelming support from his wife and outright derision from everyone else. The story appears as a series of comic strips, including periodic “Sunday funnies” installments, as though the urbane wit of the New Yorker had infiltrated daily newspapers. The put-upon, schlubby landscaper and the regular punch lines of the comic-strip format serve as a nice counterweight to the (beautifully, hauntingly depicted) angst and melancholy pervading much of the collection, which is rounded out by an adult-film star’s unwitting doppelgänger, two addicts wrestling with love and damage, and a brooding brute who gains regular, secret access to a stranger’s home. Graphically, Tomine excels at imbuing every figure—big or small—with individualized traits (hands on hips, cocked shoulder), giving the sense that the story’s focus could shift deep into the background and still find rich, full life.
Achingly human and divinely rendered.