Comics

32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics

32 Stories effectively demonstrates how the dolorous ‘90s diary comic might pull itself out of the mire of its similar contemporary pieces. It is Tomine’s command of form that ultimately redeems the genre.


32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Length: 104 pages
Writer: Adrian Tomine
Price: $19.95
Publication Date: 2009-05
Amazon

One night, my roommates and I settled down to a lazy evening browsing HBO’s decades-old on-demand catalogue of “Real Sex". It became obvious that the ‘90s were categorically unattractive. Similarly -- although unaided by frizzed up-dos and genitally inspired facial hair -- independent comics from the same era suggest that the decade was ridden by ugliness. Replete with sloppy art, a zine (read: lazy) mentality, and fragile, memoir narratives, the legacy of ‘90s comics is one of slipshod vanity. Panel after panel is scrawled with weepy girls in their bedrooms and brooding boys with comical glasses, suggesting that the broken family stories and social disquiet almost everyone endures is terribly interesting if illustrated as quickly as possible.

Even now, as young hipsters of tomorrow buy Ghost World graphic tees -- What hath Clowes wrought? -- comics have struggled to recover from the confessional sloth and egoism of the ‘90s.

In many ways, Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve mini-comics, now collected in Drawn and Quarterly’s box set 32 Stories is no different. The art is imprecise, the author features himself prominently, they are printed on copy paper, and there is no shortage of panels of downtrodden suburbanite youth. Throughout the minis, Tomine insists on the truth of these personal stories, even devoting an entire piece to the issue of his biographic accuracy -- as if to suggest the reader might miss how very open the author was being.

However related to the deluge of ‘90s trash Tomine’s work may seem, the likeness ends at the superficial. 32 Stories effectively demonstrates how the dolorous ‘90s diary comic might pull itself out of the mire of its similar contemporary pieces. It is Tomine’s command of form that ultimately redeems the genre.

The 20th century hermeneutician Paul Ricoeur once wrote that the meaning of the Bible doesn’t occur in any of its stories of in any one of its narrative forms, but, rather, emerges from the subtle interstice of all the stories and forms. Tomine’s 32 Stories work in much the same way and its is this narrative holism that prevents them from ever feeling like they are weighted down by authorial self-obsession. Tomine never directly comes out and says, “I felt lonely", or “Modern life is hell". Rather, he presents the reader with many snippets of stories -- some only a few panels long -- that express Tomine instead of drawing him out. Tomine’s portrait becomes a wonderfully indirect one, in which, for the most part, the author is inferred as simply the central point around which all the fragments revolve.

It is an incredibly rewarding activity to try to construct the author in this way and one that avoids all the pitfalls less discreet memoir. 32 Stories takes on a life of its own as well, maturing from its half-baked first issue into the masterpiece issues five and six and finishing with the awkward #7, seated on the cusp of being picked up by Drawn and Quarterly (the mini-comics were self-published).

Much of this vitality, may be attributed to the admirable way in which Drawn and Quarterly has chosen to treat this reissue. Rather, simply stamp the Optic Nerve mini-comics in a trade -- cf. Sleepwalk, Summer Blonde, Shortcomings -- Drawn and Quarterly has gone the facsimile approach and recreated them exactly as Tomine originally published them. The change in the stock as the mini-comics go on, as well as the introduction of spot and color and treats such as stickers, allow the reader to experience the evolution of Optic Nerve.

Although now eclipsed by his later work which secured Tomine a spot in modern comics indie pantheon, the Optic Nerve mini-comics are an endearing and eminently readable glimpse into the author’s earlier life and career. Easily appreciable by both Tomine fans and newcomers alike, 32 Stories is a successful reminder of what the ‘90s should have shaped up to be.

7
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Film

It's a Helluva of a World in Alain Corneau's 'Série Noire'

Alain Corneau's Série Noire is like a documentary of squalid desperation, albeit a slightly heightened and sardonic one.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.