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A Year of Cool Comics – Day 196

by  in Comic News Comment
A Year of Cool Comics – Day 196

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today, as I promised the other day, we take a look at Adrian Tomine’s first multi-issue story arc in Optic Nerve, “Shortcomings”…


Sometimes, in fiction, the phrase “too much of a good thing” applies. What is good in smaller doses is not so good in large ones. However, when you’re dealing with someone like Adrian Tomine, whose bread and butter is developing characters, having THREE issues to develop the characters in his Optic Nerve three-parter, Shortcomings, is a good thing.

Be duly warned, however, that the protagonist of the story, Ben Tanaka, is not a great guy. He’s a pretty miserable person, really, but Tomine does such a strong job developing Ben and the rest of the supporting cast, as well as put them into interesting situations, that it is still enjoyable following Ben’s story, even if it is, by all accounts, a pretty depressing one.

The comic opens with Ben and his girlfriend, Miko, having yet another argument that seems to get at the heart of ALL of their arguments – that she is interested in their Asian heritage and he really is not…

Next to Ben, the most important member in the story is Ben’s best friend, Alice Kim, a friend since their undergraduate days…

In two of the most striking scenes in the first issue (heck, the whole story), Ben goes along with Alice as her “beard” at a family event, but learns that even in helping her with the whole “pretending not to be gay” thing, he is still opening her up to criticism from a different perspective…

and later, Miko discovers Ben’s supply of porn DVDs, but has a peculiar angle in her anger…

The story is driven by Miko getting a four-month internship in New York, leaving Ben alone in Berkeley. Even apart, they fall into familiar arguments (even as Ben secretly pursues a white girl)…

Later, he gets involved with a different white girl – this time a bi-sexual friend of Alice’s…

Ben can definitely be hard to handle, but his almost buffoonish sense of what is right and what is wrong is, if not charming, is at least pretty interesting to watch.

Really, perhaps a recurring them in this work is the idea of rationalization. Characters rationalize their behavior constantly in the work (to their parents, to their girlfriends, to their boyfriends, to themselves), and in their rationalizations, Tomine shows us insights into each of the characters.

Tomine’s art is good, and he does an especially nice job on character expressions. I have one sorta major beef with his art, though.

This character being white is a major plot point.

Now, if you tell me he’s white (or half-Jewish/half-Native American), then I’m not, like, incredulous, but the idea that you’re supposed to look at him and automatically get that he’s white – I don’t think that comes across.

But it’s not a huge deal – big enough that I thought I’d mention it, but it is not like it detracts from the story.

This story was collected into one volume titled Shortcomings.

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