Review: Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

You may recognize cartoonist Adrian Tomine’s work from The New Yorker – he’s created over a dozen covers for the iconic magazine. His latest collection of comics, Killing and Dying (Drawn and Quarterly, $22.95), showcases the varied artistic styles and the swift, emotional punches that made Tomine’s covers so powerful. He’s a true master of his craft, and these six stories serve up plenty of opportunity for Tomine to flex his chops.

Four of the stories deal with relationships: a man abandons his lawn care business to focus on creating art, much to the chagrin of his wife and child; a woman and a man fall in love at a recovery meeting, but despite near constant contact never really know each other; a woman returns to the United States from Japan and begins again with her estranged husband.

The title story, Killing and Dying, focuses on the relationships between a husband and wife and between a parent and child. When their socially awkward teenage daughter wants to try her hand at stand-up, the father is reticent; the mother, however, who is dying of cancer, encourages their daughter to put herself out there. Seriously painful performances ensue.

These are not simple stories. Each work is rich and emotionally complex, made all the more gripping thanks to Tomine’s beautiful artwork.

And while the family dramas are engaging, Tomine really shines in the solitary narratives. In “Amber Sweet” and “Intruders” Tomine dives further into personal speculation and inner dialogue – with rich results.  We see Amber lying awake at night, wondering about her situation; we see the unnamed male in “Intruders” staring out a hotel window, the spare, black-and-white drawing showcasing his loneliness and desperation. 

There are moments of great sadness in this collection, but also great light, joy, and beauty.