Artist Adrian Tomine, perhaps more widely known for his covers on New Yorker magazine, produced the first twelve issues of Optic Nerve over a period of many years. Early issues present many self-contained short stories, while the middle batch expands into single, full-issue stories. Tomine’s “real life” dramas of adolescents and young adults portray deeply flawed characters awkwardly trying to get their emotional needs fulfilled, with results that are at least poignant if not tragic.
Tomine takes a story to a full three issues in #9-11. That tale of doomed romance explores ethnicity and gender identity as two college-age Japanese lovers drift apart. Tomine wraps up the first dozen issues with a story about an artist making downright terrible art. Middle-aged characters take the lead as Optic Nerve pays tribute to newspaper comic strips. The story of the sensitive but incredibly inept artist and his wife takes place in a series of “strips” complete with a full-color “Sunday” strip of extended length.
Many of the stories end on a real downer, in a quiet moment that makes one feel not that the story is over, but that we are now simply abandoning these poor souls to their fates. Tomine makes us into voyeurs, privy to the most intimate and personal moments of his characters’ lives. But, the window only opens so long before we find ourselves shut out again. These fascinating little character studies compelled us to read and re-read them many times.
Crisp, clean artwork defines this series. It draws the reader’s focus to the incredibly expressive but realistic gestures and faces. One could learn a lot about depicting the human hand and head from Optic Nerve. As a result, the eye lingers on each perfectly constructed panel, completely drawn into the conversations between characters.
We assembled our collection over time from a number of 2nd and later printings, as finding affordable first prints of these very limited editions proves challenging. Some lucky person in a far away country picked up our collection on eBay recently, but you can find many of them as single issues or paperback collection from Drawn & Quarterly.
Overall, this was one of our favorite indie comics to discover throughout the last few years. Even the quality of the paper and printing stands out. Clearly thought and attention to detail went into every stage of making these excellent little books. Let’s have a look at more of the covers and interior art from Optic Nerve!