Written by Adrian Tomine
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Does everyone have a “type”?Just to say it before anyone else can – yes I know that I’m Ben Tanaka. Am pretty sure that “after a movie like that, I’m ashamed to be human” is something that I’ve said at least more than once. Most people tend to recoil at the idea that they’re attracted to a certain type of person (“I just like who I like”) but even worse than that is the idea that you’re a particular type of person. I mean – what could be worse right? We’re all beautiful and unique snowflakes – none of us identical to anyone else.
I’m still trying to work out what I think about Shortcomings. Part of me thinks that it’s just a book designed to make you feel – if not quite sad – then something approaching maudlin maybe. You know – that feeling of sitting on the wing seat of an airplane as it takes off from the city you live in.
Reading Shortcomings made me think of a thing I read last week by Sam Kriss called How to disdain your dragon that’s supposed to be about Game of Thrones but like most good writing ends up being about a lot of other stuff on the way there.
There’s a bit where he talks about Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian and a type of writing called “MFA Literary English” (or Mfalé). To quote Sam:
Texts written in Mfalé are brisk, frank, stark, plain, competent, and readable. They concern the daily lives of a few everyday characters, usually young, usually in some kind of bad sexual relationship or complicated breakup, usually mediated by digital technology. There’s a close, but brief, attention to sensory detail, and an even closer attention to minor affective nuances: moments of inattention or miscommunication, people who see each other as more or less than they actually are, small eddies of desperation or loneliness or regret. There’s a lot of banal but realistically rendered dialogue. Stories are generally (but not always) written in the third person, but hew very closely to one particular perspective. If they’re not autobiographical, they read very strongly as if they might be autobiographical. They’re implicitly universal, but shy away from allegory, symbolism, or satire; instead of being general they’re relatable, so that each incident could plausibly echo a situation in your own life in a blossoming of one-to-one correspondences, so that the reader can imagine that the smart but fucked-up girl or the soulful but awkward boy is themselves and nobody else. Unlike some terminally online writers you might want to name, the authors of these works aren’t adverbially preening themselves with strange words or sentences elongated into unreadability – but they’re also not self-consciously flat or affectless or nihilistic. They gesture towards a kind of emotional hyperliteracy. If the author is showing off about something, it’s how much they see, how well they understand the social pitfalls of ordinary life.
“Small eddies of desperation or loneliness or regret.” would be a good name for an Adrian Tomine book no?. (Although maybe a little too on the nose).
I’m curious as to the reasons why this style of writing is so popular / why people dig Adrian Tomine and Shortcomings and other books of it’s type. The stuff that tends to make my brain light up is some big crazy sci-fi thing or somesort of Alan Moore flavoured weirdness where most of the thrill comes from the blast of strange and exotic ideas that don’t quite fit in your head. I would be surprised if someone said that after they finished reading Shortcomings that their takeaway emotion was joy. After I finished reading it I just kinda felt like a cloudy day. But maybe that’s the point? I’m always tempted to read far too much into the idea that poor black churches in America have this image of people dancing and clapping and singing songs like they’re all in Sister Act while rich white churches in England have this image of people standing still and looking down and singing songs like they’re just about to die. But maybe when your life isn’t that good you need to find joy where you can and maybe when your life is great you need to find places to be down? (I feel like this would also explain why so much high-brow art is so boring and dull).
Don’t get me wrong tho – I’m not saying that Shortcomings is bullshit or anything like that. I mean – I think it’s a good comic albeit the type of thing I’d recommend with a shrug rather than an enthusiastic nod you know?
Maybe it’s just not my type.
What do you think?
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