Saturday…”special” coffees and just kicking back. I’m re-reading some old “Optic Nerve” comics by Adrian Tomine, from back in the mid-1990s.
I never thought I’d miss the 90s…at least, not during the 90s. But looking back from the post-9/11, Internet era, it seems like such an innocent time. People just creating shit…living. It’s hard to articulate. Things seemed kind of smaller-scale. Less “fraught.”
I’m reading the letters sections of these “Optic Nerve” issues. People responded very personally to these comics. Tomine really captured something about the experience of “alternative culture” (now “hipster culture”) people in their late teens and twenties in a way that enraptured or infuriated them.
Out of curiosity, as I read the letters of each issue I’m Googling some of the letter-writers’ names (only the ones distinctive enough that I have a fair chance of finding that person). It’s interesting to see that a few of them — the ones who weren’t already established — were or became cartoonists, like Sarah Oleksyk, who writes for “Regular Show< " and recently published a graphic novel, “Ivy.”
Issue #2 has a letter from James Kochalka of “American Elf” fame. This is from 1995 and I don’t think Kolchalka started “American Elf” until around ’97 or ’98. I don’t know what he was up to at this point in his career. Here’s what he says to Tomine:
Harsh! It’s kind of weird to see a “recognizable” name under a critique that negative in another cartoonist’s letter column. Ivan Brunetti writes some positive feedback in that same issue, and Julie Doucet has a very supportive letter right above Kochalka’s. It makes Kochalka seem kind of douchey, which maybe was the point.
I wonder if Kochalka would stand by his words today. I guess you’ve got to watch what you say to people, on the off chance you both become (sort of) famous.
Speaking of Tomine, here’s an old blog entry I wrote in May 2003 about seeing him at an in-store speaking engagement:
I’ve been meaning to blog about this for months, and now that I remember to do so, I’ve forgotten all the relevant details. Oh well. But here it is, for what it’s worth:
A few months ago, the Dilettante was in town, and I ushered him through the standard One Day Downtown Seattle Tour (Public Market/Space Needle/Experience Music Project). During the day we ducked into the Elliott Bay Book Company as part of this nefarious scheme of Kevin’s which is better left untold.
I was astounded to discover, just as we were leaving, in fact, that none other than Adrian Tomine, author of the amazing comic book Optic Nerve, was scheduled to do an appearance that very day!
So I dragged Kevin back into the store — the poor guy had never heard of Tomine, and had about as much interest in seeing him as in attending an insurance seminar. But, pal that he is, he agreed to stick around and indulge this alt.comic.geek’s starstruck need to witness Adrian, or rather The Adrian Tomine, in full color 3-D live action.
Tomine was in town to promote his latest book, Summer Blonde, and after some joking about the impossibility of doing a book reading of a comic book, he settled in for a brief interview with a guy — a local cartoonist? — whose name I didn’t recognize.
A note on the audience: it was a packed house, and as someone who never goes to conventions or other fan gatherings, it was a very weird experience to be packed in with so many other alt.comic.geeks. It’s especially weird when it’s a collection of Optic Nerve fans, because it’s not exactly the kind of communal gathering generated by, say, a Bruce Springsteen concert. Basically you’ve got a bunch of emotionally warped neurotics sitting around scowling. But anyway….
Sad to say, I no longer remember a word of the interview. It was basically stuff he’s said in other interviews, mostly self-deprecating remarks about how lazy he is and apologizing for the slow output. I guess he’s busy lately doing (gasp) paying gigs in commercial art, which is great because I really like his style — it’s understated without making a big deal out of its understatedness.
Oh, and the guy looks almost exactly like the way he draws himself in his comics. He’s tiny! And he acts about as uncomfortable in public as you’d imagine.
So, the interview itself wasn’t that memorable…Tomine’s a great artist but not exactly the most dynamic speaker. Which is cool, because that’s pretty much how I would be in front of an audience, too, and also because it’s kinda neat to see one of your idols revealed as just sort of a regular geek who happens to be spectacularly gifted in one realm. That’s how it was with my Sarah Vowell Experience a couple of years ago. “She’s a geek like me! The only difference between us is that she’s ten times as talented! That’s so cool!”
There was a Q&A after the interview…nothing too memorable there, either. I was going to ask him some goofy question, along the lines of “Did the stuff in issue #4 actually happen to you?” but I didn’t get the chance. I had a brief impulse to go talk to him at the signing afterwards, but what do you say to someone like that? “Gosh, I love your work. Can we trade lives?”
Then Kevin and I left the store and continued on our merry adventure. At the EMP we saw Madonna’s pointy bra from that one tour, and, supposedly, Buddy Holly’s glasses that he was wearing when his plane went down. Which I kinda wondered about. The plane went down in flames, everyone was killed, but the glasses survived? What’s up with that?
Months later, I would sit down to write about the whole experience in my weblog, and somewhere between the fifth and sixth paragraphs I would realize that I might have already written about this in the previous incarnation of my weblog, but I can’t remember if I did or not. Then I would decide to just forge on ahead anyway, hoping that nobody would remember that I’d already written an account (probably totally different in details from this one) of this event, thus making me look like a tool.