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Review: Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine proves why he's one of the giants of the graphic novel.

For the most part, I have a serious dislike for when people give superlatives in one medium/ category as a way of giving a compliment to someone working in another medium/ category. For instance:

Bob Dylan is the greatest living American poet.

In my estimation these types of comparisons generally do an injustice to the medium being appropriated and cause the person giving the superlative to lose credibility, which in turn makes people ignore the compliment and defeats the purpose of making the statement in the first place.

All that said, I'm going to go ahead and ignore everything I just said by saying that Killing and Dying is the best collection of short stories I've read in a long time.

First, to give a little context, Killing and Dying is a graphic novel by writer and illustrator Adrian Tomine, whose previous books include Shortcomings, Summer Blonde, and Notes from an Impending Marriage. Tomine is perhaps most widely known though for his work as an illustrator for The New Yorker. Killing and Dying is broken up into six separate stories, ranging from "Amber Sweet," the story of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to an adult film actress (and the painful consequences of such a resemblance) to Intruders, about a soldier come back from overseas and, through a number of circumstances, starts making a habit of breaking into his former apartment.

The six stories are simultaneously bleak and humorous and are tied together through their exploration of loss and the strangeness of contemporary American life. The artwork is also masterfully done and helps set the somber, but ever hopeful, tone of the stories. If one ignores the medium in which these stories appear, they can see a lot of parallels between Tomine's work here and that of literary short story writers like Raymond Carver or even Ernest Hemingway in how much of the information about the characters and story are communicated by inference rather than directly. And like the work of those masters, these stories stick with you.

If you're either a fan of the serious graphic novel (as opposed to just superhero fare) or if you're a reader of literary short stories, I couldn't recommend Killing and Dying highly enough.


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