Unbeknownst to me (before I had finally opened it up to read), this collection was his first foray into actually creating comics for selling; first foray into self-publishing (a world I will soon delve into). Finally, in 2008, thanks to his publisher of fifteen years, the collection met the light of a day in the form of a little box filled with 8 wonderful zines, reprinted and repacked for republishing.
Now, on to my actual story:
A (not so brief) Foreword
Prior to the first graphic novel I ever received (the Hobbit: graphic novel version, I’ve since lent it to my younger brother, I forget the actual title), the first time I read graphic novels again seriously (aside from browsing from dad’s youngest brother’s collection) was when my ex lent me a copy of The Umbrella Academy (Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba). We’ve (obviously) parted ways since but his love for this art remained with me, except, I never took to reading the superhero comic books the way he and my dad’s youngest brother did.
Instead, I found myself falling into the worlds and words of Ba and Moon’s Daytripper, Thompson’s Blankets, Fables, Gaiman’s Sandman (Gaiman's everything, really – I just recently devoured The Graveyard Book and died from it); and then slowly but surely formed my own collection of graphic novels: Saga, Through the Woods, V for Vendetta, The Walking Dead, Budjette Tan's Trese, Flight, Asterio Polyps (borrowed from the brother of another ex), Persepolis... and so begins the never-ending list.
Now, as a reader who is relatively new to this world, and as an essayist who wants to venture into comic-book writing, I try to get my hands on everything. Like a sponge, my goal is to absorb and absorb and absorb – if only to learn from those who have known this world for much longer than I have — before I (finally) squeeze my brain dry of stories in the form of sequential art.
How We (the Book and I) Met:
The other day, after running my errands at the bank, I dropped by my favorite Fullybooked branch (sorry Fullybooked, BGC, your throne has been usurped) and found 32 Stories.
One copy: stacked beside Hawkeye (which I’ve honestly been meaning to read but never had the courage to part with my money to) and Scott Pilgrim (which I already read, thanks to, again, my ex). As I was familiar with mostly all the titles in this branch, this one took me by surprise. An unassuming brown box—a wraparound slipcase (I figured), with a sketch of a boy and his shadow on the bottom-right corner of the box, and a title: 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comic. It took one look at the art scribbled in front and at the back of the book for me to decide I wanted it. I picked it up. Held on to it. Decided to buy a Calvin and Hobbes collection for my little brother, saw a complete collection of Persepolis (HELLO, how could I not) and because I just quit my job and my income is no longer self-replenishing, I considered just walking away from all of it. Head home, and come back another day.
Ten minutes later, I walked out of that bookstore with all three (and some two grand shorter).
I didn’t know who Adrian Tomine was. And to be honest, when I saw the reviews on Goodreads, I was a little bit disappointed that I’d actually spent money for the box. I left it unopened and brought it along with me for my two-week vacation at my lolo's.
This morning while killing time before my 2 pm yoga, I decided to open it and give it a shot. The box wasn’t actually a slipcase, as I’d originally thought it was. It was. Well. A wrap-around lid (if that even makes sense). Inside were 8 zines, with different, some: colored, covers.
I was bemused. Of course they were zines, (what a genius idea) — no kidding, I actually thought and might’ve said these very words out loud. So, naturally, I dove right in.
The first zine was a foreword and when I read it, I realized that this presentation was not merely just packaging. To print and publish it in this (fancier) way was deliberate: Tomine's intention was to recreate the fact that the Optic Nerve mini series was a self-published title. Meaning, Adrian Tomine, as a high school student, went out and doodled these stories on pieces of paper, stapled them together, xeroxed his work, put a nice cover, placed it on a stand with a $1.00 selling price; and waited for someone to pick up his work and actually read it. And then here it was again, recreated in finer form, but as exactly that: for lack of a better term, "photocopied" zines placed in a box, as raw and real as the original series.
Because of the author’s ingenuity, I was hooked. Not only was he dedicated enough to continuously publish these short comics, he was also self-reflexive enough to decide to reproduce them in their original form.
A lot of the reviews online pretty much say: not his best work, (obviously) heavy-handed and amateurish, but I think these people forget that Adrian Tomine (author of the more popular Shortcomings and Summer Blonde (among others)) made these as a kid, you know - say 14-15 years old; and as the zines get longer, the artist gets older, the stories and the artwork mature.
Even more delightful is the fact that you can actually see the author’s growth, and his world and influences change zine after zine after zine before your very eyes. Unlike the black and white, almost tacky cover prints in the beginning, the zines towards the end of the collection are now colored (and sell for twice as much).
I am not going to say anything more about this book in fear that I am going to overhype this collection for you, whoever you are, whether you are a potential Adrian Tomine reader, or just someone in search of another good book. But, I will say this much: I have been slaving away in a corporate job, barely touching any of my money, refusing to shop on a whim (even though sometimes, lots of rackets come in and I can actually afford it).
This is one of the few times I broke that personal rule, and for what its worth, I am so happy I did.
(The Inevitable Blog POST-ESQUE) Navel-Gazing
I have been struggling and continue to struggle to produce a comic of my own. What was intended to be a mini-series, a zine, more appropriately, turned into a full-fledged story that I am now starting to realize might not even see the light of day. To see the works of a young Tomine, in his most juvenile and amateurish (for lack of a better term) state as an artist, relentlessly producing self-published comics despite the uncertainty, and a lack of funds, a readership, and sometimes, a good story – and hey, I’ll go as far as saying: some of the anecdotes weren’t that great at all – he went and produced and produced and produced anyway.
I wouldn’t know if he met bumps along the way, or if it was as easy for him as it was grabbing pieces of paper and effortlessly shitting out stories like some artists I know; I also wouldn’t know if people took to his work immediately, or if it took a while to build a readership (but some of the zines actually do have letters from readers saying his work is shit and he should just stop); or if he ever thought of giving up after reading hate mail. But I do know that this box is proof that he didn’t.
And as the obedient, (not as young, but still young-ish) sponge that I am, my takeaway is this: time to self-publish all the comics I can until a publisher finds and loves me.
Kidding aside, here’s true to life inspiration that I just might make it one day, although let me just say: nowhere as prolific or as practiced (I dare say writing is an art that you have to keep at to get better) as he is, but dreams are free.