GEEKROCKER: Q+A with Adrian Tomine
This month, Wee Claire chats to cartoonist and illustrator Adrian Tomine
New York based cartoonist and illustrator Adrian Tomine came to prominence with his ongoing comic book series Optic Nerve and his periodical illustrations in The New Yorker. Since then he's gained a strong and loyal following having released several collected works, amongst these are Summer Blonde, Shortcomings, Scenes From An Impending Marriage and, his most recent offering, New York Drawings.
Growing up, what sparked your interest in comics and graphics novels?
I have an older brother who kept the house well-stocked with comic books when we were growing up. It was the first reading I ever did, and it made a big impression. I think most kids go through a phase of trying to copy images out of comic books or from newspaper comic strips, but for me, it quickly turned into an obsession.
You started being mainly self-published - what would you say are the positives and negatives of starting this way?
I was able to learn a lot in a fairly low-stakes setting. It seems like now, most aspiring cartoonists instantly try to seek out a big book deal for the first thing they produce, or else they upload it to the internet, making it visible to people all over the world. I think I might've been intimidated to the point of not trying if those were my two options when I was a teenager. Or worse, I might've subjected myself to a level of criticism that would've short-circuited any ambition I had. Of course there's the occasional prodigy who is totally perfect right out of the gate, but most of us need to fumble around and make mistakes for awhile, and I certainly benefitted from doing this in front of a very small, slowly-increasing readership.
With the digital revolution, there are a lot of indie artists out there pushing their work online in the form of short strips and webcomics. Is this a route you'd advise or do you still prefer the "old skool" way of doing things.
I don't think I'm in a position to really advise anyone about this, and for the most part, I think it would be impossible to talk a kid out of putting their stuff online if that's what he or she wants to do. Like I said before, I personally benefitted from the experience of slowly dipping my toes in the water rather than diving right in, and I also learned a lot from the experience of creating and assembling those little pamphlets. But so much has changed since I was a teenager, so I'm probably coming at this from an out-of-date perspective.
It's clear from some of your work that your Asian American upbringing has influenced you - do you ever worry about putting your personal feelings / experiences into your work?
No! I think that my personal feelings and experiences are the most important thing I can put into my work. It's really like the only original thing I have to offer. And I hope that's not in conflict with my Asian American upbringing!
Many class your work as "alternative" or "indie". Would you ever do something completely different like a sci-fi or a horror comic, for example?
I don't think of those terms as being mutually exclusive. There's plenty of "alternative" or "indie" comics that delve into genres like sci-fi and horror. I'm sure that if I had the desire to work in those realms, I would have no compunction about doing so. It might be an interesting endeavor, especially since I'm not at all well-versed in those genres. Or it could be a big mistake!
Your mini-memoir "Scenes From An Impending Marriage" documented your (then) upcoming marriage to your wife Sarah. Now you're a Dad, have you considered doing something similar but about fatherhood?
Several people have suggested a "sequel" to the wedding book...something like "Scenes from an Impending Birth" or whatever. But I think that's a path that's much more well-trodden at this point, and there would be a lot more danger of cliche and sentimentality. It wasn't a conscious decision, but I think that becoming a parent has definitely made an impact on the fictional stories that I'm working on now, so I think my next book will reflect that. It just won't be in that joke-y, autbiographical mode that I used for the wedding book.
Has parenthood changed or effected your work in anyway? If so, how?
Becoming a parent is, so far, the only experience in my life that has profoundly changed the way I think about people in general, and myself in particular. And I can't imagine that wouldn't affect the fictional stories I'm making up, but I'll let other people be the judge of that.
"New York Drawings" is your latest release, NYC is such an inspiring city and that's clear from your work. If you could choose any other city to live and work in, where would that be and why?
There's many places in the world that I'd love to live, but the truth is, I'm at my happiest and most inspired wherever my wife and daughter are.
The older we get, the harder it can be to be inspired by our surroundings - how do you keep your work fresh and what keeps inspiring you?
I think it's a misconception that an artist will be most inspired by very culturally-rich or bucolic surroundings. Sometimes the opposite can be true. I grew up in a handful of small, nondescript cities along the west coast of America, not particularly inundated by art or culture, and it was actually the lack of distractions that led me to sit for hours in my room learning how to draw and tell stories.
Finally, what advice would you give young budding comic book artists / writers and illustrators wanting to break into this industry?
I never feel like I'm really in a position to dispense any advice about this kind of thing, especially since I have no idea how I ended up where I am, and I'm constantly incredulous that my hobby has turned into my job. But I guess I'd maybe tell someone to not worry about "breaking into the industry." Spend your time practicing, learning, etc. If you're good, it won't be too hard for you to get noticed.
New York Drawings is out now!
If you'd like to find out more about Adrian Tomine, check out his official website.
Photo of Adrian Tomine by Sarah Brennan