Sleepwalk and Other Stories by Adrian Tomine (drawnandquarterly.com) is a beautifully drawn, expressive, understated, DARK short story collection in graphic form.
By dark I mean: do NOT give this volume to any friends who are struggling with a difficulty right now. The stories are unhappy. Stories of as little as two pages draw you in and then immediately leaving you hanging as to whether the protagonist died, whether they are completely alone in the world, whether they are safe...
Tomine is a master of expressing quiet alienation, and nearly every page stings like an old injury that just won't heal, but which your friends doubt was ever real in the first place.
The protagonists are ordinary people in ordinary situations in which they are ineffective, unaware, helpless, lonely, and unsure of what to hope for. There is a painful passivity in many of these vignettes, things left unsaid and undone which might have changed everything, but which are either unknown or have been actively ruled out as options.
I am a huge fan of Tomine's graphic novel, Shortcomings, in which a highly sarcastic, insensitive guy fails to notice that his primary relationship is gradually dissolving. There is a scene in that graphic novel that I had personally experienced (in the girlfriend role), almost word for word, and the way Tomine captured it... It was a charged, emotional moment perfectly expressed in black and white lines.
Expressive observations of people struggling to communicate are where Tomine is king, and Shortcomings displays his expertise brilliantly in a long, continuous narrative.
Tomine's mastery is again on display here, in a different form. This collection showcases so many stories, each about a person failing to connect with others - lovers, parents, twins, classmates, passersby - with their roles and details different, but the same outcome. This variety of disconnections leaves an atmosphere of greater uncertainty than his longer form works, as if you have a view of many characters walking different tightropes, and no one has yet managed to find their balance.
images and original text Copyright © 2015 A. E. Graves, book cover images are the copyright of their respective owners
(posted November 14, 2015 refreshed February 2019)
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