NYC, through Tomine’s lens




By Adrian Tomine (Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly, 2012, 176 pp., $20.95 (U.S.), hard cover)

The most striking thing about “New York Drawings,” a collection of Adrian Tomine’s artwork, mostly from the New Yorker magazine, is just how rich with content it is. The idea of a collection of illustrations might sound insubstantial, but that’s not the case for several reasons. First, there are a lot of illustrations in the book.

Tomine has been working for the publication for more than a decade, and even if you’ve had a New Yorker subscription for that entire period, unless you’ve read every issue front to back, you’ve probably missed quite a few gems. Second, there are also numerous side/endnotes that present an interesting glimpse into the inner workings of Tomine’s mind, as well as the inner workings of the New Yorker. And third, the collection contains much more than just New Yorker illustrations. It has many illustrations he’s done for other magazines (including Giant Robot), images from his personal sketch diary and a previously unpublished comic loosely based on his experience at his first New Yorker party.

All of this material feels worthy of inclusion. The film review illustrations, for instance, are unique and fun (the New Yorker is one of the very few publications that commissions original artwork for their movie reviews). For people who read superhero comics growing up, there will be something familiar about seeing one of your favorite artists take two scenes from films by David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai and Yasujiro Ozu, as well as his renderings of Sung Kang, Yo La Tengo, Eminem, Ira Glass and even Batman (the latter in an unpublished gift to famed designed Chip Kidd).

The New Yorker covers are, of course, the meat of the collection. They often tell short, but rich, self-contained stories: for example, the now famous cover, in which a young woman and man spot one another reading the same book on passing trains. On their own, the images are often clever or poignant, but when viewed in succession in the form of a book, with magazine title, price date and mailing address removed*, they feel more like a series of vignettes. *(They keep that info on one 2010 cover illustrations, but only because it’s necessary to the story, which is probably the most/fun humorous cover in the collection).

There are themes that recur and changes in tone that you wouldn’t notice viewing them separately. And it’s also hard not to be struck by how impressive it is that Tomine is able to consistently tell such stories in, often sparse, single panels. And at the same time, the best images are more than the story or gag they tell. One cover depicts a man in an ice cream truck reading a newspaper in the dead of winter outside central park. Even without the “story” (the guy isn’t going to sell a lot of ice cream with several feet of snow on the ground) that the icons and text on the truck reveal, the image is a powerful one, which lingers in the mind. The layout and design of New York Drawings by Jonathan Bennett are perfectly in sync with Tomine’s aesthetic. This hardcover tome is a worthy addition to Tomine’s growing library of work.

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