Summer Blonde

Wow. Just finished reading this four-story collection by Adrian Tomine. It's the kind of nerdy, socially retarded, semi-autobiographical comic that I would normally avoid. Why bother when you can listen to Belle & Sebastian, right? I picked this up because it had critical acclaim coming out of its ass -- just look at the back cover -- and I was curious if it really deserved it. If not, then I planned on writing a really snotty post about how everyone is wrong and I am right (cause everyone loves those!). But no, turns out Summer Blonde really is great.

Although you do have to stick with it. Each story is better than the one before, and the first one ("Alter Ego") was kinda heavy and plodding and difficult to get into. The central character wasn't particularly sympathetic, and his best friend was a one-dimensional straight-edged foil. But I appreciated the cleverness of the telling. Of the four stories, this is the only one with a third-person narrative, a sly comment on the protagonist's discovery that he can write autobiography only through the use of imaginary characters.

The second tale ("Summer Blonde", a reference to the Pavement song?) features another pathetic lead male. Again, the character was a little too wet and wimpy for me to get fully behind him. I need a little bit more wit and animation in my nerds in order to get hooked, for which, blame Joss Whedon. But I loved its open ending even more than the one in "Alter Ego", perhaps because the female love interest was more fully realised.

The last two stories I loved unreservedly. Finally, we got central characters that had the spark and energy which could balance the poignancy of their fumbling social lives. "Hawaiian Getaway"s Hillary Chan brought back fond memories of Jamie Hernandez's Maggie. Indeed, the story seemed to owe more than a little to the Locas books. But if it imitates, it does so in its own way. The open ending dovetails nicely into an almost surreal flashback, which perfectly captures the essence of the character.

The final story ("Bomb Scare") is the most Belle & Sebastian of all, which is probably why I liked it best. The tentative relationship that flowers all too briefly would have left me in tears, if I wasn't above such puny human emotions. It was brilliantly contrasted with the mother's romantic life. And the suggestive link between the First Gulf War being played out on television screens and the bomb scare presumably orchestrated by the charismatic and faintly sinister best friend was enticing. But what does it suggest?

I don't generally like open endings, but in the Summer Blonde stories they work perfectly, as they contribute to Tomine's concerns about how we interact with each other, and how we can never really tell what is going on in other people's heads. We are always left as uncertain as the protagonists. There are no answers offered, just the constant detachment and loneliness of the human condition.

So maybe critics do know what they are talking about. Sometimes...

1 comment:

  1. Like the more recent work that has taken on racial issues - will check out this collection