‘Killing and Dying’ by Adrian Tomine (2015) – 121 pages
Looking at the lists for the best graphic novels of 2015, ‘Killing and Dying’ was far and away the one most frequently mentioned and thus presumably most gift-worthy. But how do you give a Christmas gift to someone that is called ‘Killing and Dying’? Am I the only one who thinks this is not exactly the festive Christmas spirit? It would have been so easy to call the book something else. The actual story ‘Killing and Dying’ is not at all what its title suggests.
So instead I gave this graphic novel to myself. Rachel Cooke in the Guardian called Adrian Tomine the Alice Munro of comics, high praise indeed. One similarity to Munro is that ‘Killing and Dying’ is actually divided into six graphic short stories rather than being a graphic novel. The qualities that distinguish Adrian Tomine from other graphic writers are the off-beat originality of each of these stories as well as the emotional depth he achieves within each story. This is one graphic novel I would not recommend for children under the age of sixteen, not because of any comic violence but instead because of its adult sensibilities.
Of the six stories in ‘Killing and Dying’, two of them are definitely my favorites. The first story, ‘A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture’, is a humorous yet poignant take on a guy fulfilling his artistic inclination despite the skepticism of his wife and nearly everyone else. The title story, ‘Killing and Dying’, is about a teenage girl who attempts to become a stand-up comedian much to the chagrin of especially her father. There does seem to be a common thread between these two stories of individuals pursuing their dreams despite their dismissal by their family and perhaps the general public.
However the other four stories totally defy expectations. I suppose it was a case of me becoming so enamored of those two above stories that I was a bit disappointed when the other stories were so completely different. Perhaps I’m underestimating the impact of a story like ‘Amber Sweet’ about a young woman who finds herself mistaken for an internet porn star.
As far as the visuals go, one only needs to know that Adrian Tomine has done several covers for the New Yorker. Enough said.
The comics in ‘Killing and Dying’ have a literary subtlety that is not usually associated with comics. These are comics for adults.