Interview with Adrian Tomine
I never liked the word ‘vacation.’ The root verb ‘to vacate’ signifies fleeing something like your life, which should be grand. Maybe I’m a workaholic or just a believer in enjoying your life’s work, but I would happily pass up any sunny day at a beach with margaritas if I could trudge through the rain to be involved with work I love.
Adrian Tomine illustrated this week’s New Yorker cover titled “Summer Getaway.” Splitting his time between cartooning and illustration, Tomine has been hard at work after starting the comic series, Optic Nerve at 16. Since then, he’s created several visual novellas, including 32 Stories, Shortcomings, A Drifting Life, and Summer Blonde out through Drawn & Quarterly. He also regularly contributes to The Believer, Travel + Leisure and The New Yorker. Check out his recent covers for Ozu’s film series for The Criterion Collection. They’re an austere, but assured blend of imagination and observation.
When I asked him several questions about this week’s cover, he was coincidentally out on holiday (notice how I didn’t use that evil v-word). He’s now back from a well-deserved break:
I like the push-pull juxtapositions in your work. The boredom of the back seat versus the front in this reminds me of the smart illustration you did of The High Line with the sightseers and trash beneath them. Do you try to report life as it is; caught somewhere between heaven and hell?
In general, I do tend to focus on the realities of everyday life, but I think this particular juxtaposition that you’re referring to (the happy Mom in the front seat, the forlorn kid in the back seat) is just an age-old cartooning trick for communicating something without words. I really can’t take any credit for it.
You got into drawing early on and started submitting comics to publishers throughout high school. What made you decide to pursue literature instead of taking the traditional route to art school? Did you ever feel like a spy among the liberal arts world?
I definitely considered going to art school, but the expense of it (coupled with the fact that I miraculously got accepted to UC Berkeley) dissuaded me. I started out as an art major at Berkeley, but didn’t really care for it, so maybe it was all for the best. And I suppose I feel like a bit of a spy in general, not just among the liberal arts world.
Illustration allows you to observe and draw from life, but it also enables you to enhance and create scenarios that do not appear in reality. Was there ever a point when drawing became such a painstaking process that you thought about documenting life directly through other mediums like film or photography?
People often describe my drawing style as very realistic, but the truth is, it’s still cartooning. I think I’m much better at suggesting images, rather than expertly delineating them. For example, on this current New Yorker cover, I didn’t draw every detail of the Manhattan skyline, the cars are mostly made up, and all the other objects (e.g. the bicycles, raft oars, etc.) are greatly simplified. I’m sure that in every illustration I’ve done, there’s been a point where I decide to depart my reference material for the sake of clarity or composition or just ease on my part.
I know you’ve been close friends with Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Ivan Brunetti over the years. What was the experience like working alongside them on the cover of the 85th anniversary issue of the New Yorker?
We’re all good friends, and I’m sure that’s a big reason why we all agreed to work on the project together. We don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like, so for me it was great to just have that kind of constant communication for a few weeks. No disrespect to the finished product, but I honestly think the email exchanges between the four of us and (New Yorker arts editor) Françoise Mouly were actually funnier than the covers we ended up with!