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Royal Reviews: Optic Nerve #12

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Thursday, September 15 2011 and posted in Reviews

Cartoonist extraordinaire Adrian Tomine finally returns with a brand new issue of his famed comic series Optic Nerve!

Comic Review Cover

Credits & Solicit Info:

Optic Nerve #12

Adrian Tomine

September 2011

In the new, long-awaited Optic Nerve #12, award-winning Shortcomings cartoonist Adrian Tomine returns to the multiple short story format familiar from early issues of the iconic series. These full-color stories showcase Tomine's trademark humor and observational skill, making Optic Nerve #12 a great entry point for new readers. "A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture" deftly manipulates traditional comics idioms to tell a story of horticulture, patents, and misunderstood art forms, while "Amber Sweet" is a disconcertingly modern tale about a case of mistaken identity.

Full color, 40 pages

ISBN: 9781770460683

$5.95 US / $5.95 CDN


We all want think about doing something greater, bigger, and more successful than whatever we're up to right now.  How many people are really all that satisfied with what they're doing?  Whether it's art or industry, we're always thinking about doing something better.

Harold certainly feels that way, and he's chosen to do something about it.  In "A Brief History of the Artform Known as Hortisculpture," the first short story in Adrian Tomine's new Optic Nerve #12, Harold is a modest gardener who is sick of having to settle for mowing lawns and trimming hedges for money.  He is struck by inspiration and one day decides to create a brand new artform: hortisculpture.  The portmaneau is obvious; Harold creates a type of "living sculpture" where he combines growing plant life and man-made materials to bring about something new.  As Harold himself puts it: "It's a synthesis of nature and craft; a marriage of the wild and the man-made; a living, breathing objet d'art."  As he goes off into the world (or at least into the small town he lives in) trying to blow everyone away with his new ideas and new creation, Harold's earnestness is infectious, and it's easy to root for him as he runs into resistance and opposition.  As excited as Harold is about hortisculpture, he doesn't find any support.  His wife is more concerned about the paying the bills, his neighbors find his work ugly and obtrusive, and a friend even makes a joke comparing hortisculpture to the common Chia Pet.  Harold is unable to sell a sculpture; he's literally unable to give them away.  In fact, he goes years without anyone ever telling him that what he's doing is in any way interesting or worthwhile.

The stirring emotional truth and the quick, concise wit are vintage Tomine.  Now thatOPTICNERVE125 he's married and has a small child, Tomine is putting the modern issues of young relationships on hold for a bit to tell an older man's story.  The remarkable thing is that not much changes from one age group to the next.  We always want to do something greater, and want to be recognized and loved for it.  Watching Harold become so embittered by his experiences with his problematic suburban existence is rather heartbreaking, but Tomine doesn't make Harold the virtuous, all-knowing Prince Among Men either.  Tomine's hallmark of character construction is how three-dimensional he makes them, and how the contradictions all fit together so seemlessly (at one point, Harold is grumbling about lowered standards while binging on cheap supermarket junk food).  Visually, Tomine's simple but clear line drawings look as confident as ever.  The interesting thing he does with "Hortisculpture" is that he presents the story using the visual grammar of newspaper comic strips, right down to the figure drawing.  The story is broken up into a series of black and white, four color strips punctuated every seven strips by a full page, four color sequence (a lá the Sunday funnies).  The format displays Tomine's trademark conciseness, as each strip represents its own chunk of storytelling, with its own beginning, middle, and end.

OPTICNERVE123The second story in Optic Nerve #12, entitled "Amber Sweet," is a melancholy modern tale of a young woman who is heckled and cat-called everywhere she goes.  She eventually finds out that the reason for all this attention is that she happens to bear a striking resemblance to a porn star named Amber Sweet.  Certainly, things are really difficult for her as her identity becomes co-opted by who and what people, including a steady boyfriend, think she is.  The story is sad and difficult, but takes a poignant turn when she gets a chance to actually meet and spend a day with the real Amber.  For this story, Tomine reverts to his natural, expressive style and full color, and everything looks so big and vibrant compared to "Hortisculpture" that the issue becomes a study in contrasts. 
Tomine shows off his versatility even further with a funny two-page autobiographical story at the end, where he actually goes all the way back to his old shaggy mini-comics aesthetic from early in his career. The story details his new life as a cartoonist and comic book creator who prefers to publish single issues while his contemporaries all go into creating hardcover, perfectly bound graphic novels the current market favors.

An Adrian Tomine book is always welcome, partially because so much time passes between each one, but also because his work has a knack for eliciting that "yeah, I've been there" reaction from the reader.  The characters and interpersonal relationships in his "slice-of-life" stories really feel like they're happening right outside your window.  Tomine really cuts to the core not only of his own characters, but of the reader's experience.  His level of craft is really remarkable, and Optic Nerve #12 really is another great entry in the Adrian Tomine catalog.

Review by: Royal Nonesuch

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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