Killing And Dying

By Adrian TomineCover to Killing And Dying
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 9780571325153

I loved this book. A collection of short stories, much in the mould of Daniel Clowes’ work with a hint of Chris Ware. The genius of it is that Tomine adopts a different comic strip style for each one. They’re not hugely different from one another in style, but it’s enough to change the tone and pacing of each tale considerably.

The opening story, ‘A Brief History of the Art Form Known as “Hortisculpture”’ is an absolute gem all on its own. Utilising a daily strip format, with every seventh expanded as if it was Sunday, it follows a downtrodden gardener who hits upon a new type of art. His desperate need to express himself creatively, and succeed with his artwork, soon begin to rule his life, and by extension, his household. Everything about the telling of the story promises a bleak outcome, and yet I was completely wrong-footed. This tale alone shows a mastery of the medium as it subverts the reader’s expectations and delivers everything it promises.

The second tale ‘Amber Sweet’ is a case of mistaken identity where a college student just happens to look like a popular erotic star. People seem to treat her either disrespectfully or just plain terribly, with little in-between, and there seems to be little she can do about it. It’s not terrible at all, but compared to the rest it’s perhaps the weakest of the bunch. That may sound dismissive, but, really, it’s a great vignette. 

‘Go Owls’, the third story, is a love story about two recovering alcoholics who connect over the support for a local team. The female character appears to have been dealt more than her fair share of bad hands whereas the male seems to be the cause of much of his own demise. Despite this their love of their team carry them through, and, ultimately, tears them apart. A cleaver ending wraps it up nicely, and breaks your heart – just a little bit.

‘Translated, from the Japanese’ is a more ambitious tale, telling the story without ever showing the protagonists. Instead, you follow what’s being seen, so you’re looking outwards rather than looking in. Think of it as a sequence of establishing shots. It works rather well, and is certainly the most Chris Ware in terms of illustration.

‘Killing and Dying’ sits us amongst a family of three, where a teenaged daughter announces she wants to be a stand-up comedian. We get to see the paternal anguish this causes the father, and the ups and downs as the daughter tries to make it. There’s far more going on here than just that, and your sympathies are constantly challenged, and, ultimately, rewarded.

The final story is the most disturbing of them all. Called ‘Intruder’, it follows a military veteran whose life has crumbled. By chance he is reunited with a set of lost keys to an apartment he no longer has. Entering it while the current occupant is at work, he settles into a new routine, living like a ghost in someone else’s home. 

All of the stories are snapshots into quite ordinary people’s lives, but they work because Tomine gives each and every one a chance to breathe. The characters may not all be making the right decisions, but you’re at least given the time to understand why they’re in the situations they’re in. Some are instantly relatable, some are places you hope you’d never go, but all are intriguing. This book’s been out a while and has had heaps of praise already, but in case you’re wondering it’s all publishers’ fluff and flannel, rest assured that this book is well worth your money.

And if you liked that: Try Sleepwalk, also by Adrian Tomine

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