The acclaimed Brooklyn-based cartoonist’s latest book, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, is a graphic memoir that dissects authorial insecurity and self-doubt with a series of alternately hilarious and painful true-life anecdotes. The book will be published July 21 by Drawn & Quarterly.
Publishers Weekly: As I read this book I cringed. I laughed. I remembered every time I ran into you and hoped I didn't do anything to you that might show up in the book. Tell me how this book came about.
Adrian Tomine: Each book that I do is somehow a reaction to the previous book. When I finished my earlier book Killing and Dying, I didn’t want to just jump right into another collection of similar short stories. And then I went through some of the events that happened towards the end of this book, which led to the overall inspiration.
Is it all true?
It's true to me, is what I'll say. There's nothing in there I [deliberately changed] or thought, this is a lie. I'm sure if you were to interview other people involved in those stories, even my wife, they might have a different opinion, but as much as possible, I tried to write what I believe to be the truth.
Towards the end, you note that the shameful, painful memories are the ones that you've taken away from all of many of your past comics experiences, but there must be good memories too?
A lot of the good memories are more broad and vague. I've made the most important friendships of my life through comics, friends who changed my life more than anyone outside of family. But it's hard to encapsulate that concept into a three page comic strip. So I wouldn't say that these are the only memories, but they do exist with a clarity in my mind that some of the other ones don’t.
What made you feel comfortable with telling all these stories? The lactose intolerant story, where a date has to sit through your bathroom visit, is sit-com level embarrassment.
When I started making comics, it was in a complete vacuum. I was a high school student living with my parents. I had no sense of anyone ever reading my work. I've been trying to trick myself into thinking I was back in that environment ever since. When I started working on my previous graphic novel Shortcomings, I tried to play a mind game to transport myself back into the mindset of when I was a teenager working in isolation and just shutting out all the thoughts of an audience and critics as much as possible. And I think with this one, it was my strongest attempt at that yet. I didn't do a pitch for the book in advance—I worked on it without telling anyone for a really long time. That was useful because I was not obligated to actually publish this stuff. If I go down a path and it's terrible, then no one will ever know about it and I'll just throw it in the garbage. That gave me a lot of freedom.
Do you feel like today’s young cartoonists have experienced the kind of stigma against reading comics that you talk about a lot in the book?
I don't think so. And I'm very envious of them. Maybe younger cartoonists will read my book and either disagree with it, or maybe if they're charitable, find it an interesting insight into previous generations. But I also think that what I'm trying to do is have a surface story, with a background story that builds up in the back of your mind as you read it. And for me, what that shows is that despite all my griping, you see me grow up and leave California and move to New York and fall in love and get married and have children and enjoy that new phase of my life. I don't point to it too directly, but I want to show in some ways, all those wonderful things that happen in the background are intertwined with the stuff that I'm griping about.
Did you actually draw the art for this book on graph paper as it appears in the final printed book?
Writing for me is doing a very rough version of the comics. This was done in a sketchbook. But for publication, I basically translated each page into a slightly more polished version.
Did you consciously try to do a different art style? It’s much looser and the lettering is different from your usual lettering.
I think this is maybe the closest that I've come so far to find my own style. I've often struggled with assimilating my influences—you look at my work from when I was a teenager and you can see, oh, here's when I discovered Dan Clowes and here's when I discovered the Hernandezes. With this book, I went around a lot of those influences and tried to do it as if I was writing directly from my mind. So my hope is that this art is the comics equivalent of my handwriting.
Did you really write that letter to your girls that you show at the end of the book? Will they read it?
Yeah, but it was not as eloquent. It was a lot more scratched out and digressive. I have a folder with all the real artifacts from the book. My daughters have both completely ignored all of my books except for the little one about my wedding. That one has kind of grabbed their interest. And so probably this one will too, if only because they are characters in it.
Many of the stories revolve around your name being mispronounced. For the record, how do you pronounce it?
The way I pronounce it is not exactly the way that everyone in my family pronounces it, but I say toe-MEEN-ah.