Shortcomings belongs to the fine category of novels which you put down after reading, look at their front cover one last time and it all suddenly comes springing at you; it all starts to fit in, like the pieces of a most enjoyable puzzle.
Because one of the most admirable things about Shortcomings is the preciseness of its titling – a title that bears so many allusions and echoes so much; a title so exact in such an array of ways that it eventually pulls you to read the book again to try and uncover what else it may be referring to.
In Adrian Tomine’s most notable full-length graphic novel, the characterization is so finely brought about that it leaves you to wonder whether this is in fact the most blunt and shameless account of Tomine’s younger years. The novel consists in what comes across as the simple story of Ben, and the story of his peers, his lesbian best friend Alice, and his girlfriend Miko. As simple as it may look, this is a story that dwells on about backgrounds, about generations, about identity, about fitting in, about mishaps, misunderstandings, failures, about coming of age.
Although in his young years, with the path of a life and chances to take ahead of him, Ben is full of a bitterness that he does not want to admit to himself, and even less so to his girlfriend. Although he hates talking about race and openly denies the importance or indeed the relevance of his own Asian background, Ben is in a clear struggle with his own identity. He refuses to admit that Caucasian girls arouse him, refuses to participate in race-related debates, but paradoxically has a strong complex about the size of his penis, which he happily blames on his Asian background. His girlfriend, rather than suffering his bitterness decides to follow her own path, leaving Ben with his unacknowledged anger.
Throughout, Ben comes across as a very irritable character yet meaning well and with a potential that he is unfortunately too short sighted to blossom. Shortcomings is the unresolved story of his failures and his disappointments, and offers no other closure but the hope that Ben will eventually recognize his failures as necessary steps to his understanding of greater things, which will have to happen beyond the last page of the novel.
In short, a very honest story about identity with the sharp black ink lining very inherent to Tomine’s work. Using black and white only, it is as if Tomine is insisting on his main point in the act of drawing itself – it is not about colour, it is about perception.
– Jesus, what is that? An Asian ‘gangsta’ convention?
– They’re just college kids, Ben.
– Did you see that guy? The way he looked at us?
– That guy that just passed us. He had white girl envy.
– You’re crazy.
Undoubtedly, Adrian Tomine is best known for being a New Yorker cartoonist – a recent collection of his most excellent works released last year under the name New York Drawings. Prior to that, Adrian Tomine has run issues of a comics from which Shortcomings emerges entitled Optic Nerve and released a few one-shots. He is 38 years old.
Author/llustrator: Adrian Tomine
UK Publisher: Faber&Faber
196 pp – £14.99
UK Publication date: 2006
————————— Fabrice Blanchefort