Sunday, October 5, 2008

Comic Review: Shortcomings

There's an interesting line of dialogue near the beginning of the graphic novel Shortcomings that's really representative of the entire work itself. After leaving an Asian-American digital film-fest, Ben, himself an Asian-American, remarks to his girlfriend that it annoys him that every work of art by an Asian-American is a big statement on race and he asks why can't they just tell a story?

Shortcomings is a graphic novel about character flaws, hence the title, and not really about being Asian. Even though race plays an important part in the story, it's not the story itself. It's the story of Ben and his girlfriend who are on a break while she goes from Berkeley to New York for an internship. It's also the story of Ben flirting with a stereotype of Asian men wanting to have sex with white girls. It's also the story of Ben's character flaws and his defeat by his own figurative hands.

Written and drawn in a crisp, clean style by Adrian Tomine, who is also Asian-American, this graphic novel is, at times, personal and political, major and minor. There's numerous examinations of Asian stereotypes and sexual stereotypes, and finely sketched characters.

The story is told in a very realistic way, which means everything is messy, just like in real life. The relationships are messy and real and the people are confused and real. This is not a Superman comic, for sure. Tomine is playing in the realism sandbox, and doing a fine job of it. Everything on the page breathes and moves, not just in the art-sense, but also in the story-sense. It's a graceful skill that Tomine seems to have, effortlessly.

This is an extremely good comic book. I really enjoyed what Tomine is trying to accomplish here. This reminds me of Daniel Clowes, but even better anatomy and a better sense of society, rather than outcasts to an ill-defined society. Shortcomings is a terrific story with great art, great characters, and a great story.

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