Borrowed Interview: Adrian Tomine

Categories:  Interviews

Adrian TomineFull-length interviews are for people with free time. Between publishing Optic Nerve and doing illustrations for publications like The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Time, Adrian Tomine doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot of extra moments to field questions from goofy upstart indie-comics blogs.

Fortunately, if you also happen to be working on a piece for the New York Press, previewing Tomine’s upcoming Brooklyn book-release party for Optic Nerve 11 (Saturday, March 31st, at Rocketship), the third of his on-going racially-charged “Shortcomings” storyline, you can at least squeeze a quick, semi-informative e-mail Q&A out of the guy.

Check out the full-partial interview in all of its hastily-asked glory, after the jump.

Race has seemingly become a more important aspect of your writing. Was it something that you were initially hesitant to tackle?
I don’t know if ‘hesitant’ is the right word, because it wasn’t like I had story ideas that I wanted to pursue but retreated from out of fear or nervousness. I think if a story like this one had occured to me ten years ago, I would’ve done it.

You’ve been working under the Optic Nerve title since you were 16 or 17. Have you ever been tempted to abandon the banner, to get something of a fresh start?

I think I’m probably in the same circumstance that a lot of pop musicians find themselves in. Namely, being saddled with a title or name that seemed a lot cooler to them when they were 16. I doubt Mike Love ever envisioned himself at age 70 or whatever he is, wearing that baseball cap and performing under the name ‘The Beach Boys.’ It used to bother me more, but I’m somewhat resigned to it now, especially because I can come up with new titles for my individual books as they’re published.

How long does it usually take to complete an issue?

The main variable is how much of my time is focused exclusively on the issue. Basically, I try to work on the comic as much as I can until I’m interrupted by some freelance illustration job that I can’t afford to pass up. On average, though, it seems to take me about a year to complete a 32-page comic, which, as I say it, kind of turns my blood to ice.

Does the length ever make it difficult to commit to a multi-issue story?

I guess it depends on how I feel about the story. I think if I stumbled upon my masterpiece, my defining work, I’d be happy to dedicate as long as necessary to it. But usually I find that my own self-criticism quickly surpasses any initial burst of enthusiasm I might have, and I start wanting to finish long before I actually do. I really admire these guys who’ve been able to produce these incredible, long books…they’re really some of my favorite comics of all time. But in a lot of ways, I find the process of cartooning, especially when one artist is doing everything himself, to be a very inefficient medium.

Was doing illustrations for the New Yorker something you had been striving for all along?

I was an avid reader of the magazine long before I was working for them, and they are pretty much the only ‘employer’ I’ve actively pursued.

How did your relationship with them come about?

I imagine in this era of e-mail and websites, this will sound very quaint, but when I was about 25 years old, I came to New York from California on vacation, and I brought along a portfolio of my work and dropped it off at The New Yorker offices. A few weeks later, they gave me a call. It was a big thrill for me.

And, strictly for the comics blog: what are you reading these days?

I’m happy about this ‘comic strip re-print boom’ that’s happening now. Walt and Skeezix and Peanuts never lose their appeal for me. I can just keep going back to them over and over again. The first volume of Popeye was kind of a pleasant revelation to me, since I’d never really sought out much of Segar’s work in the past. I was really impressed by Richard Sala’s first issue of Delphine. It might be my favorite thing by him ever. I stumbled upon this Japanese book called Doing Time by Kazuichi Hanawa, and I found it pretty fascinating. What else has come out recently? I loved the latest Acme Novelty Library, which probably goes without saying. I like a lot of these newer artists who are showing up in anthologies like Kramers Ergot and Mome, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing more work from Tim Hensley, Jonathan Bennett, and Vanessa Davis.

In the name of self-promotion, we will be linking to the full New York Press piece, when it drops, next Wednesday.

–Brian Heater

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