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Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Killing and Dying (2015)

by Adrian Tomine

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Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine is a short story collection in graphic novel format. Each chapter delivers a brief glance into a character’s life with an emphasis on his or her fears, crushed dreams, and sorrows. All of the stories are separate from each other, so there are no obvious connections beyond theme and tone. The graphic novel compilation is a depressing, albeit realistic read, and each story leaves behind a feeling of futility and hopelessness.

Like many short story compilations, a few chapters keep you engaged, and a few not so much. Tomine’s very subtle story-telling, which is more often than not somewhat effective, could also be frustrating in the shorter stories. The shortest stories were precisely as you’d expect: too short. They left little to no room for dynamic character change, which means they do not make much of an impact.

Tomine brilliantly displays his artistic talent throughout the compilation. The illustrations, both classic and beautiful, impress immensely. Much like the stories, realism also plays an important role in his presentation. At times, the artwork is more immersive than the plot, which can be problematic, but at least the images capture the reader’s interest until the bitter end.

Each main character possesses a flaw that he or she either cannot or will not change. Additionally, most of the characters have also been haunted by something in their past, which they are still dealing with in their daily life. True to the novel’s title, some of them kill their flaw, some die by it, and some push through it. Each story is a reminder of something we all share: the constant battles we must fight to lead a happy and successful life.

On a surface level, there is nothing wrong with Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying: Stories. He is clearly a very talented illustrator and writer. Unfortunately, I found that the brevity of the stories hindered my ability to fully connect with the characters. Tomine seems to want to leave meaning up to the reader’s interpretation, but he does not provide enough background information for the reader to actively invest in the process of discovering that meaning. Regardless, the images are stunning and the stories mimic life quite accurately, so if you’re intrigued by the format and premise, I would still give it a try. ( )
  Codonnelly | Feb 13, 2017 |
A beautifully presented book, with strangely understated stories. They range from funny to weird to poignant and sad. There are lots of different things going on here, the pictures, the writing, the spaces in between. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Jan 22, 2017 |
Five stories of awkward living in America. The title story was about a father and daughter failing to understand each other's worlds. Another story was about alimony-dodgers. ( )
  questbird | Dec 4, 2016 |
For me, the most striking thing about this collection is how much Adrian Tomine has progressed as an artist and writer in the last decade. I had first read Adrian Tomine's Summer Blonde back in 2006, shortly after it appeared. I remember thinking it was self-indulgent, irritating and somewhat derivative of Dan Clowes both thematically and stylistically. The sketches were exaggerated and flat, the stories self-indulgent and centered around the sex lives of nerdy dude writers. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, but it seemed fairly similar to a lot of other things that were happening in the indie comic scene at the time.

Fast forward ten years to Killing and Dying, Tomine's latest collection. The reader is immediately struck by the extreme precision that Tomine has adopted as his signature style. The plotting are characters are meticulously rendered, withholding all but the most minimal amount of context possible to tell the entire story. Blocks of solid color and straight lines predominate the book, panels are made rigidly even on a grid, letting the content do the talking. Important details are visible, unimportant ones are excised.

Each story in the collection explores a kind of duality in storytelling. One early story, “Hortisculpture” adheres strictly to the format of daily newspaper comics to tell a depressing story in the traditional series of six 3-panel vignettes followed by 1 larger “Sunday” strip. The vignettes all end on a “humourous” punchline, just like a newspaper daily, but the larger story they tell is one of futility and failure. In the title story “Killing and Dying” Tomine tells one story with careful images while another plays out in the dialogue. And yet other stories revolve around the duality of the characters themselves — “Amber Sweet” centers on a woman who discovers that she looks identical to a popular internet porn star, and “Translated from the Japanese” features a woman considering the alternate life her child might have if a decision had gone another way.

And I’m happy to report that not one of the stories is about the sex life of a young nerd writer. ( )
1 vote lobotomy42 | Jul 27, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Death creeps in around the edges of Mr. Tomine’s new book, casting a sometimes barely perceptible shadow.
It’s a story that gets down so deeply to the heart of where stories come from that there’s no way to get back out without tearing something inside. It will also make you want to hug your child or your spouse.
added by lobotomy42 | editThe Guardian, Chris Ware (Nov 19, 2015)
The characters are hardly caricatures; their lives are messy, scattered with minefields, yet they’re trying not to give up hope. And their fates are left to our imagination. What will become of them? Who knows? But we want to know.
added by lobotomy42 | editSFGate, John McMurtrie (Nov 5, 2015)
Like Bechdel, Tomine has a great sense of balance between the visual and the verbal; his default style is one of clarity and precision (the influential ligne claire of Hergé), but he's willing to alter his drawings in interesting and thoughtful ways to suit his aims, crowding his pages tighter in a story about a claustrophobic relationship ("Go Owls") and emptying them out for an ephemeral, light-footed immigration one ("Translated, from the Japanese").
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words and images
two stories flow into one
streams into rivers

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A showcase of the possibilities of the graphic novel medium and a wry exploration of loss, creative ambition, identity, and family dynamics.

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