Wednesday, July 20, 2005

28. Summer Blonde

by Adrian Tomine

As I said earlier, I picked up Summer Blonde shortly after reading the McSweeney’s comics issue. Having seen the book before and being intrigued by the art but not entirely sure that I would enjoy reading a comic, and not wanting to spend $14 on it and, no, I can’t just read it in the store and decide because it’s an entirely different feeling from when the book is mine, I didn’t get it. That was over a year ago. But I’m glad my opinion on that has done a complete 180 because this is a whole new world that was previously unknown to me. It’s like Christmas. But without the fake cheer.

Summer Blonde consists of four separate stories. In “Alter Ego,” a young writer struggles to live up to the praise of his first publication while embarking on his follow up. In the title story we see a girl who becomes the fascination of three men, one of whom straddles the line between harmless crush and infatuated stalker. “Hawaiian Getaway” features a woman who’s been fired from her job, who’s left alone in her apartment when her roommate suddenly moves out, and who must deal with the guilt her family lays upon her. Finally, “Bomb Scare” focuses on two high school students who, though being social outcasts, learn a little something from each other.

The major theme of these four stories is isolation. Each one deals with individuals who feel set apart from their part of society and, even as they strive to come out of that place, do more to push themselves back in. The stories are believable without being overwhelmingly moral – Tomine isn’t trying to tell us anything specific with his work other than what happens over the course of these people’s lives. My one complaint would be that the stories just kind of drop off at the end. There’s no real conclusion, no semblance of what’s going to happen to the characters after we’re finished with them. But perhaps that was intentional and we were only meant to catch a glimpse of these lives, a specific segment of their thoughts and actions that carry on long after we’ve turned the page. Each character inhabits his or her own voice so well that it’s not difficult to believe that, whether they’re based on real people or not, they live on beyond the page.

“These are characters a lot of writers can dream up, but very few can make believable. Adrian Tomine not only makes these people real, he makes them sympathetic, and that is what makes him a true artist. That, and his ability to draw just about any facial expression in human experience.” So says Dan Raeburn in his jacket introduction to the book. I’d say that’s a fairly accurate judgment. Even with my feeling that I would have liked more from the stories, that I would have wanted to know how the characters end up, something about the way the characters are drawn and those characters coexist and interact with the written words will have me coming back for more. I’m sure Tomine’s work will become a staple in my collection.

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