Review: Shortcomings

13 Apr

The best thing about being in Singapore, to me at least, is being able to access a solid selection of an ever expanding body of comic books in the National Library. It’s a really great feeling especially when you manage to discover something that you’ve identified on the shelves of Kinokuniya that you would love to read but lack the money or storage space for.

Anyway, I figured that since I have easy access to all these comics I might as well do some reviews of the more noteworthy ones, so here’s the first of (hopefully) many more to come. I’ll probably do some reviews of the comic books I love that I currently have in my possession as well.

Here we have the first candidate of Indiedoodle’s comic review: Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. I really didn’t give the title much thought until I was done with the book, which is just as well since it was fraught with so many euphemisms that I just lost count.

Note: My reviews will be accompanied with a snapshot or two of selected pages of content just to give a sample of what readers should expect. I figured that that was the way I’d do it since I felt that scans of the book, even for review purposes just didn’t feel right. Also, as my handphone’s screen got screwed up pretty bad lately (sad story really), the pictures I took might be slightly off center with some parts of the page cut off.

Post-Note Disclaimer: This book deals with sexuality, adult relations, and other issues along the same vein, most of which I will touch on in the course of this review, so if you are below 18 or might be offended by such things, please do not continue reading. You have been warned.

Ben Tanaka, the protagonist of this slice-of-life tale is a poor sod. We are introduced to him at the tipping point of his relationship and within the first few pages he already manages to establish himself as, to put it mildly, quite the asshole. His girlfriend, Miko Hayashi, suspects that he has a fetish that revolves around white women and this point of contention reels its ugly head multiple times throughout the book, always managing to rile both of them up. Then there’s Ben’s best friend, Alice Kim, who always comes to his rescue wherever the trail of destruction leads. Oh, she’s also a lesbian.

One of my favourite pages from Shortcomings

The story might appear to be very, very plain at the start (at least I thought so) but that’s the charm of it all; without realizing it, I sped through half the book on my way back to my place from the library. This exploration of a crumbling relationship set on the backdrop of California and New York is just so believable that you just accept that it might have happened to somebody you know (well, if they’re living in California or New York, that is). I loved Ben and Alice’s conversations in particular as the topics ranged from pure bitching to, cough, inadequate length (which I suspect was a double entrende for the title of this book).

Adrian Tomine’s style is deceptively simple, yet truly his own. At first glance his artwork looks like something photoshopped from a photograph, but then upon closer inspection you’ll realize that his art is very much stylized, hovering just a notch above realism. To be honest, his style reminded me very much of Troy Chin‘s art in The Resident Tourist, but that’s only because I was exposed to The Resident Tourist before Shortcomings. His simple panelling and speech bubble placement compliment the flow of the story; never once did I feel that the narration was out of pace as I read it.

If I had judged this book by its cover, I would never have picked it up. Somehow it was placed face down amongst the pile of books on the shelf, and I guess I was lucky enough to decide to pick it up and read the summary on the inner sleeves (Way to go, me!). The reason why I chose to review this book was because it was an unexpected gem; I really didn’t think that I’d like it as much as I did when I decided to borrow it. Sure, Ben acts like a petulant child most of the time, but he does have his saving graces at times. Also, it seems to me that Shortcomings (as well as other stories drawn by Adrian Tomine in Optic Nerve) is a compilation of autobiographical snippets of the artist’s own life, disguised as a fictional narrative. Heck, if you compared Adrian Tomine’s face to Ben Tanaka’s, you’ll see the resemblance.

Drawn & Quarterly has a pdf preview of Shortcomings on their website if you’re interested, here’s a direct link to it: Clickety click!

Adrian Tomine’s latest book, Scenes from an Impending Marriage, however, seems to be taking a lighter, more wholesome approach to relationships (if any of the reviews I’ve read are to be believed). I think I’ll be getting this just as a follow up to Shortcomings since it’s become a habit of mine to buy a book by a newly discovered author I like just to show my support. I usually stay away from the negative and dark comics, but I guess Adrian Tomine just swayed my vote, and he just might sway yours too.

P/S: I was wondering if should include bullet information about the books I’m reviewing, such as ISBN number, page count, etc. Would appreciate some reader feedback about this since I’m comfortable just sticking to simple reviews, haha!

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2 Responses to “Review: Shortcomings”

  1. Reimena Ashel Yee June 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    The review you’ve done is well, well-done (okay, okay, I need to find more descriptive words). I think if you keep on doing it this way, it would be enough, as you do a very proper review describing the artist, your personal experience, and the work itself. The page count won’t be necessary unless it’s a deceptively HUGE/tiny book and you got to warn people. Maybe you can provide some links where people can order online if they are interested, like Amazon or something.

    Keep up with this awesome blog! 8D

    • Max June 14, 2011 at 4:26 am #

      Thanks for the kind feedback, glad that you enjoyed the review! I’ll keep your suggestions in mind for my next review!

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