Shortcomings

First, full disclosure on possible circle-jerky conflict-of-interest: This book talks some brief shit about S.F. Weekly. In return, S.F. Weekly will talk some brief shit back, while also acknowledging that Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings is awfully wonderful. This graphic novel, his first long-form comic, illustrated in a clean, film-noir style that is both subtle and emotionally evocative, concerns the romantic and existential grief of a few Asian thirtysomething UC Berkeley grads living in the East Bay. I would make a joke about the drawings' lowbrow haiku, except that so much of the failed love story concerns matters of Asian identity and stereotyping and the protagonist Ben's obsession with such (the title is a hint at one of these fixations). All the handwringing about identity politics gets tinny and tedious at times, like those Sopranos episodes where everyone yammers on about Italian stereotypes. More jokes about Oakland hipsters! More illustrations of the Smoke Pit and the Alley! Anyway, Ben's deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend Miko ends up getting blamed on his attraction to white girls, but the real problem is clearly Ben himself. His particular brand of unhappiness — bitterly sarcastic, unrelentingly negative, self-obsessed — would drive any sensible woman out of his bed, and Miko flees all the way to New York City (though it turns out she has other reasons to switch coasts). Ben's best friend Alice, a Ph.D. student at Mills obsessed with bedding the "incoming freshwomyn," is the most appealing character in the book, a devoted yet bitchy sidekick. Shortcomings is a brief, beautiful, bitterly funny chronicle of postcollegiate malaise, identity issues, and modern love, an elegantly dark graphic novel with all the power of a finely written short story.

 
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