The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Getting Hate Mail : Adrian Tomine – “Optic Nerve”

ABOVE: Tomine or not Tomine?

I’ve changed my views on Adrian Tomine over the years. “Optic Nerve” (his anthology of graphic short stories) first impressed me with its sensitivity; then irked me with its semi-“emo” ethos; and now saddens me with its keen depiction of what it was to a depressed hipster watching the 20th century end itself in a brutal cocktail of Prozac and Valium.

So what if Tomine was heavily influenced by Daniel Clowes and the Hernandez Bros.? If you’re a modern day graphic novelist and you’re in no way influenced by Daniel Clowes and the Hernandez Bros… maybe that’s a flaw to be corrected. So what if he got so suddenly big that I recall even my humble, unhip college Barnes & Noble dedicated a section of its walls to Tomine’s designs? The New Yorker famously fell in love with him.

And sure, he can deliberately cater to the depressed.

ABOVE: Pretty Grief

Neither his obvious inspirations nor his sudden success merited the odd vitriol that “Optic Nerve” elicited from its own fans. Interestingly, it was the letters column of “Optic Nerve” that served as the finest conduit of “Optic Nerve”-backlash. Tomine adopted an open, “publish everything negative” policy that implied either masochism or the thickest of skins, (and I say that as someone who questions the validity of my existence if some anonymous hatar so much as points out my freequnt tipohs.)

Scattered among letters from prominent correspondents like Ivan Brunetti and Julie Doucet are creepy love propositions, bizarre assaults on Tomine’s perceived commercialism, and useless advice: (“Can I send you a naked pic? You totally get me, and I’m not too fat, I promise.” “I noticed you drew a ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’ poster on a wall. You poser! I bet you don’t even really like them, you Urban Outfitters puppet! Screw you already!” “Don’t sign your stories on the last panel! Everything always has to be about you, doesn’t it?” “I don’t like the way you’re drawing eyes these days. Why can’t you draw them like before? It’s so disappointing to see you change so much!” “These stories are just the same as before. It’s so disappointing to see how little you’ve changed!” “Your last story was off, somehow. I can’t say why, exactly. I just didn’t like it, for some reason. Fix that problem, immediately.” )

Above: Bubbly


Witness a then-unknown James Kochalka scolding Tomine for not being as perceptive, naturally talented, and generally awesome as James Kochalka:

“To me, it seems like you’re not particularly wise beyond your years. You don’t seem particularly knowledgeable about what makes humans tick. To me, it seems like you’re only as good as you are simply because you work very hard at it. Sometimes, it almost seems like you’re trying too hard. (…) To me, it seems these stories don’t automatically call to be treated in this manner. Please, flow freely into your work.

To me, it seems like James Kochalka is not a particularly eloquent correspondent. (Maybe he should “flow freely” into a “How to Write Letters to the Editor” workshop?) It should be noted those aren’t the complaints of a teenage fanboy threatened by an idol’s perceived sell-out, but the letter of a man nearing his 30s, just shy of his own sell-out period. However, Kochalka’s letter does succinctly summarize the douchy hipster ethos with this line:

“I’ve been enjoying your work, but I’m beginning to find the critics tiresome.” By “the critics” he means critical praise: “I like you, but now that the critics like you, I don’t like that I like you.” (I wonder how “tiresome” Kochalka finds critical praise, now that he’s also a recipient of it.)

I’m kidding, James Kochalka! “American Elf” 4Evah!



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