Artist Adrian Tomine, who first got hooked on comics while growing up in Sacramento, is now creating covers for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine—and that’s in his spare time, when he’s not busy reinventing the American comic book
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Part of that quality may be that Tomine, despite being firmly planted in one of New York’s underdog boroughs, never left behind his home state. “I think that there’s sort of aspects of California, whether it’s Sacramento or the Bay Area,” he says, “that have become ingrained in my mind as being the default depictions of a house, or a street, or a business district, and so to draw something more specifically, like New York, I need to get reference. By default, it just starts to look like the West Coast.”
Tomine’s work, in comics and in magazines, generally features slender, young, casually attired denizens of that mental and social space situated tentatively between the waning of college and the waxing of “real life.” The narratives read like they take place in a world in which Peanuts creator Charles Schulz’s moody pianist, Schroeder, has grown up, but has not yet grown out of his self-imposed romantic and artistic torture. While Tomine’s stories are often emotionally brutal, the images are just as important to the telling; he’s an expert designer and typographer, and his pages benefit from a strong graphic sensibility. There’s a deceptive simplicity to the thin lines with which he places introverted characters into willfully generic municipal environments.
Tomine spends most of his time in his Brooklyn apartment, where he’s working on his next issue of Optic Nerve (his first to be in full color). He jokes that these days his experience of Sacramento is largely limited to the homes of his parents (his Dad still lives in the same house near Howe and Fair Oaks Blvd. that he’s lived in since Tomine’s childhood) when he visits with his wife, a psychology graduate student. But he still has hankerings: “New Yorkers have such a snobby view of having the best restaurants in the country,” he says, “but when my wife and I go back to Sacramento, we’re always pleasantly surprised. There’s this new Japanese noodle shop, Shoki Ramen House, that opened up near the DMV [on Broadway], and it’s pretty outrageously authentic. You feel like you’re in a little noodle shop in Japan.” Though Tomine left Sacramento for college in Berkeley, and Berkeley for a career in Brooklyn, the city in which he went to high school remains central to Tomine’s sense of how his life shaped its course: “If I’d lived someplace smaller,” he says, “and this is pre-Internet, I don’t know if I would have stumbled on a lot of those comics. But at the same time, it wasn’t like the sort of cultural assault that you feel living in a city like New York, where there’s a million things to do, and a million things to see, all the time. So I felt like I had enough: a good level of inspiration, but also a kind of peaceful setting to just stay at home and do my work, too.”