Adrian Tomine Redraws the Painfully Awkward in New Memoir

The graphic memoir details some cringe-inducing memories in the Bay and beyond.

The second most horrifying moment in comic book artist Adrian Tomine’s new memoir, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, starts 40 pages in. It’s 1998, and Tomine is walking in Berkeley with a journalist after a dairy-heavy meal (cheese grits and a large latte). Twenty minutes into the stroll, Tomine feels a disturbing sensation in his bowels. 

“Oh fuck, what a nightmare,” he thinks, while trying to maintain a steady conversation about Amoeba Music with the reporter. Panicked, he asks if they can stop by his home, which is just a few blocks away. 

“Oh. Okay… are you all right?” the journalist asks, looking taken aback.

“I’m fine!” Tomine says, sprinting inside to the bathroom. While the reporter sits in the living room, understandably confused, Tomine is shitting out his brains and flushing the toilet repeatedly. The sounds are loud and diverse: “Fttfttftt… Wheeee… BRAP… Shhh… PUT PUT… splash.”

After thirty minutes of this gastrointestinal nightmare, Tomine awkwardly opens the door to see the journalist in the living room, pinching her nose. 

‘The Loneliness of a Long-Distance Cartoonist,’ by Adrian Tomine

“Please let me evaporate from existence,” Tomine says to himself after the journalist leaves. It is the pinnacle of embarrassing moments — the kind of thing you’d see in a Buzzfeed article about “poop horror stories.” And it’s not unique in Tomine’s memoir. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist is a cringe-comedy supercut that spotlights Tomine, the acclaimed Sacramento-born, Eisner Award-winning cartoonist known for his Optic Nerve series and New Yorker covers, in a self-critical and humorous fashion. It starts in 1982 Fresno, as a young Tomine shares his love for comics excitedly with his third grade class, and tracks his rise to fame in the field, as others dub him a “Dan Clowes imitator,” mistake him for other artists, and mispronounce his last name (countless times). 

“I wanted to take control of all those horrible experiences and find the humor in them,” Tomine wrote to SF Weekly via email. Tomine reflects on public speaking gaffes, casual racism from other comic artists, and awkward run-ins with fans through minimalistic, penned illustrations on graph paper. The book is fashioned like a journal. Throughout the memoir, Tomine is frequently alienated — either by others or by himself.

But all of these seem like small blips compared to the ending, when the tone turns somber and serious. Our humble narrator feels like his heart is on the verge of explosion, and worries that he may be about to die. 

This would be the most horrifying moment in the memoir. Tomine goes to the emergency room, and starts thinking about his 42 years of life, his wife and children, and his complicated career in comics. It’s sobering, compared to the rest of the memoir. 

Thankfully, the diagnosis is nothing fatal: just acid reflux and anxiety. That’s the turning point for the book — and for Tomine himself. 

In the aftermath of that traumatic experience, Tomine pulls out a pen and starts sketching the very memoir he’s publishing now. Creating The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist wasn’t just about excavating horrible memories. It was also a way of letting go of the shame and resentment attached to them.

“I think I learned to laugh at myself a little more, and I learned to be more forgiving of the people I’ve held grudges towards,” Tomine wrote to the Weekly. 

‘The Loneliness of a Long-Distance Cartoonist,’ by Adrian Tomine

The memoir is centered all around how experiences with people can be simultaneously gratifying and horrifying. It’s a strange (but normal) state of mind to both crave and fear public interactions.

That’s part of the reason why the memoir is titled The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist: There is something inherently lonely about being a comic artist, according to Tomine. “I don’t think I would’ve become a cartoonist if I didn’t feel lonely in my early years,” Tomine wrote to the Weekly. “And I have a suspicion that I’d feel less lonely now if I wasn’t a cartoonist.”

Buy The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist on Indiebound.

Grace Z. Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com or follow her on Twitter @gracezhali.

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