Saturday, June 20, 2009
Do not read this graphic novel. There should be an enormous advertisement in the back, saying: WARNING: Reading may result in lower opinion in society and human beings in general. Depression will inevitably ensue.
This is not to say that Adrian Tomine is not a good artist. He's wonderful. I love his New Yorker illustrations. He draws skinny naked girls like nobody else. He also seems to have a bizarre indie following, which I was completely unaware of until I saw his wiki page. But "Shortcomings," even if well-drawn, was ultimately not fulfilling. It was supposedly about "falling out of love" (according to the ad online), but really I doubted if the two main characters were ever in love at all. There was no tragic need for togetherness, no pathos, no desire. From the very first page they bicker, by nature completely incompatible. Usually I am a fan of art involving unfulfilling relationships. I thought it would be something like the film "Closer," which tracked the relationships between four inherently flawed people. But the two highly bigoted and mildly racist characters in "Shortcomings" had no real positive traits. The male was negative and pigheaded, and female overly proud (albeit quite pretty). I was left despising all of them. I experienced the ultimate example of schadenfreude, and I don't think it was Tomine intended: when any of the characters were upset, I was joyous. I even loved seeing them get hurt, I loved seeing them cry, I loved seeing other people comment on how terrible they were. Even the side characters, such as a hotheaded Korean lesbian, were at heart detestable.
I read a few reviews online which described his stories as "relatable". To whom? Complete misanthropes? What is the "message" being portrayed here? (I'll be Kantian here and pretend all works of art have some sort of moral agenda) That all relationships are doomed to fail? That human beings are never as beautiful or intelligent or personable as they think they are? Why must every single character lack a redeeming trait? Perhaps other people can read this without being so repelled by it. It has received stunning reviews, and I spent weeks waiting for a single library copy (all of the others were checked out). Perhaps it is in the way I prefer to view human beings... as both endearing and imperfect, full of cracks and holes and history, all somewhat miserable yet revelling in happiness when it does come. Nonetheless the good traits are there, even in the muck-- maybe charisma, a good sense of humor, a genuine sense of caring and selflessness, a quick wit... traits completely absent in "Shortcomings."