Page 45 Review by Stephen & Jonathan
It's an odd title for an Adrian Tomine collection, I grant you, but Jonathan and I are completely convinced it refers to the young woman who insists on performing stand-up comedy. You'll see for yourself whether she metaphorically kills or dies there.
From one of comics' most astute observers of human behaviour - quite often rifts in relationships - this reprints OPTIC NERVE #12, 13, 14 (OPTIC NERVE #14 still in stock) and a substantially revised version of Tomine's contribution to KRAMER'S ERGOT #7. We've all Tomine's other OPTIC NERVE books in stock and reviewed.
Let the foibles begin!
Optic Nerve #12
"What is it?"
"This is just a proto-type. But it's a sculpture that I made, with a live plant growing through it.
"In this case, sweet Myrtle, it's a synthesis of nature and craft, a marriage of the wild and the man-made; a living breathing objet d'art.
"It's my life's calling."
What it really is, I'm afraid, is a rather bad idea which Harold the gardener has chanced upon whilst reading about Japanese horticulture in the bath. It's an idea so bad in conception that everyone else except poor Harold can see it straight away. But with the type of deluded confidence in his invention you regularly see in the comedy round-up sequence of ridiculous ideas on Dragons' Den, he presses ahead into fiscal oblivion. The story is told primarily as continuous, four-panel black and white shorts, two per page, with the occasional full-page colour short story, which works well given that it's spread over a number of years in an episodic manner. The art is as wonderful as you'd expect from Adrian, though it looks far more like Sammy Harkham's style in this particular tale.
The second story is called 'Amber Sweet' and here the full-colour art is more typically Tomine, though the colour palette and odd side-profile facial expression can also make you think momentarily of Chris Ware. Our nameless female lead bares a rather uncanny resemblance to adult entertainment actress Amber Sweet, and it's making her college experience rather unpleasant to say the least, as everyone seems pretty convinced they're one and the same person and Amber Sweet is merely her stage name.
This is a great little short story, which if the theory that everyone really does have a doppelgänger out there is true and that encountering them will only bring you misfortune, then having them be a porn actress certainly isn't going to help matters! In the end, our Jane Doe feels the only way she can ever get closure is to take a road trip and confront Ms. Sweet.
Optic Nerve #13
what? Something we create, not something that happens. Right? And there's always going to be hurdles, but what do we do when He hands us a challenge?"
"Utilize, don't analyze!"
Our protagonist walks out at that point, and I can't say I blame her. It's not actually a prayer meeting, though: it's Alcoholics Anonymous. She's a young-ish woman, more than a little worn by what life has thrown at her. At the moment it's housing problems.
The woman is pursued by another attendee who looks older than he says he is. He has a certain self-confidence - some would say the gift of the gab - though I would have punched him two pages in. But he offers to buy her coffee, and then puts her up at his gaffe. He probably shouldn't have snapped at her in bed, but he apologises. He's very contrite and as good as his word.
"Your key, Madame."
"I told you
this is just until I get everything squared away."
"Yeah, yeah. Just
She opens the front door and there's a vase of fresh flowers on the coffee table, and a banner saying "Welcome Home". She stands, stunned, in the doorway.
trying not to cry."
The OPTIC NERVE graphic novels are amongst Page 45's biggest sellers. It was fascinating watching Adrian's style develop so swiftly during his teens in 32 STORIES (such a beautiful package, at the moment: facsimile editions of all the original mini-comics with extras) then, as he refined his line, he settled in for a recognisable Tomine style, similar to mid-Dan Clowes. OPTIC NERVE #12, however, proved to be a marked departure, and so is the lead story here wherein we witness colour-coded snapshots of a relationship as it develops from consolation and practical assistance into something else entirely. What is the word so often used about addiction? Oh, yes, "dependency".
I promise you this: a degree of hilarity, a great many lies and one massive surprise. It will also keep you on the edge of your seat.
The brief snapshot effect works beautifully, throwing you through their story, and Tomine's famous observational skills are once more in full evidence. For all that chapter's shenanigans, I found it no less true to life (I am afraid) than Adrian's previous, gentler work.
I can see some Beto in the woman's expressions and some Chris Ware in our other, paunchy protagonist, softened by a less regimented line - particularly when the man high-tails it across the park.
The second story is in full, flat colour as a woman narrates her return to California from Japan to her child. She leaves her parents who do not approve of her decision to fly to San Francisco. She is met at the airport by her estranged husband who has secured them a tiny apartment. It is quiet, measured, profoundly moving and ends on an enigmatic ellipsis.
Optic Nerve #14
'Killing And Dying' covers the budding but excruciating comedy career of Jesse, a rather introverted young lady with a debilitating stutter. Her parents - having seen many a new obsession come and go with perturbingly repetitive frequency - fall into their habitual roles and cycle of enthusiasm / pessimism / argument, before letting nature run its ever-turbulent course where their daughter is concerned.
What follows is another shot of Tomine's classic blend of wince-worthy humour. I was practically peeking through my fingers when I got to Jesse's first stand-up gig as her parents sit in the audience waiting in a state of hyper-tension for the inevitable car crash to occur. It doesn't, for reasons I won't elaborate on for fear of a spoil a great joke, but, rest assured, it's a merely the metaphorical mother of all multiple-car pile-ups deferred...
The second story, told in a somewhat looser art style with lots of black shading and a single, secondary, light olive tone, tells the story of a divorced military veteran, living out of cheap motels, who unexpectedly bumps into a girl who house-sat an apartment he and his wife were renting when they were on vacation. Having recently cleaned out her car, she finds a set of keys she'd forgotten to give back to them. Pulled perhaps in equal part by memories past, the curiosity of who had replaced them as tenants, and the thrill of doing something illicit, he stakes out the apartment, making note of the comings and goings of the occupant, and when he finally feels safe he lets himself in.
It might be breaking and entering more on a scale of adult hedge-hopping, no maliciousness intended, but obviously it's not going to end well. That's the thrill with Tomine: bracing yourself for the moments the characters well and truly splash down in the fire, often before even realising they've been daft enough to leap from the comparative safety of the proverbial frying pan. As always, one comes away from an issue of OPTIC NERVE feeling a strange mixture of sadness and relief, the latter being purely for not having such a sad life as a Tomine character!