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Tomine to Lethem: butt out, smartypants

Comics artist Adrian Tomine tells The Believer that excessive praise for his just-released graphic novel Shortcomings – which was serialized in his popular comic Optic Nerve – makes him uneasy. Specifically, he raises doubts that long-form graphic novels are the ne plus ultra of comics art, and says that comparisons to masterworks in other mediums are implicitly degrading.

I also am trying to think – and I hope other people will start to see it this way – that sometimes a comic can be a great thing because it’s a comic, not because it’s almost as good as a movie, or as good as a prose novel, which I think is the way a lot of people are now trying to process it …. You start to get nervous when the value of a comic book or graphic novel is relative to the achievements of some other medium.

The above could be a veiled reference to the immodest praise of Jonathan Lethem, printed on the dust-jacket of Shortcomings‘s hardcover edition (published by Drawn + Quarterly). The blurb begins by articulating “Tomine’s genius” and goes on to reference some heavy-hitters:

[Tomine’s] mise-en-scene rivals Eric Rohmer’s in its gentle precision, and his mastery of narrative time suggests Alice Munro.

For criticism more to Tomine’s liking, go to Guardian columnist Ned Beauman’s comics blog. Though he is just as rapturous (he calls Shortcomings “not only one of the year’s finest comics, but also one of its finest works of fiction”), Beauman meets the book on its own terms, and peppers the review with various pithy aperçus, including this one: “Tomine’s artwork is so simple and realistic that it sometimes resembles an airline safety leaflet, and his storytelling isn’t any more experimental.”