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Adrian Tomine's New Memoir: 'The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Cartoonist'


Part of selling a book is going on a book tour. An author travels to different stores and conventions to meet fans and talk to journalists. It can be a wonderful time if you're the kind of person who likes that sort of thing. Cartoonist Adrian Tomine is not, and his new book is a memoir of sorts compiling many of the embarrassments he's endured on tour over his decades-long career. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this report.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: In a different world free of coronavirus, Adrian Tomine would be on tour right now, including a stop at San Diego Comic-Con promoting his book to thousands of potential fans.

ADRIAN TOMINE: I was frankly dreading it for a lot of reasons.

LIMBONG: This process of meeting people, shaking hands, sometimes getting interviewed on stage - it wasn't what he had in mind as a young cartoonist.

TOMINE: I got into this profession under the illusion that it would be one of those jobs where you never had to get up in front of a crowd and where you would spend your whole time sitting in a room working because for the most part, that's what it was when I started out.

LIMBONG: Instead of San Diego, he's visiting upstate New York with his wife and young kids, talking to me on Zoom while sitting in a bathroom because it's the only place in the house with a lock on it. Reading through his new book, "The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Cartoonist," you can see why he might prefer it this way. Two separate scenes find him in tears at Comic-Con in 1995 because of something someone said about him and his work. Jump ahead a few years to a different festival, and an audience question sends him ranting to his friends later.

TOMINE: This whole book is about exposing parts of myself and my life that I am not necessarily proud of.

LIMBONG: Tomine's previous works toggle between quietly funny and emotionally devastating. His 2015 collection, "Killing And Dying," features stories about a woman in recovery from substance abuse getting entangled in a bad relationship. There's a story about a dad struggling to support his daughter's career in stand-up. However much of himself is in those stories, this is the most open about himself he's ever been, which is scary.

TOMINE: There's no way to say, well, that embarrassing thing was just something that the character did.

LIMBONG: There's a scene where he's doing promo for his 2007 book, "Shortcomings," which deals with race and sexual hang-ups. It's a radio interview...


TERRY GROSS: My guest, Adrian Tomine, is a comic book artist best known...

LIMBONG: ...At WHYY's Fresh Air. It's a big deal for his publisher and a big deal for him. And in the middle of the interview, a ghost comes out of his body. It's his apparition, reminding him that just yesterday, he was making fun of a previous guest's voice.

TOMINE: Now people are doing the same thing to you. This will be archived online, so if you ever have kids, they'll be able to hear what an awkward, nervous loser you were. Oh, wait. I think Terry's about to throw you a curveball. You'd better pay attention.


GROSS: It sounds like it was really an issue for you, being judged by other people...

TOMINE: (Laughter) Yeah, well...

GROSS: ...As a person and as an artist.

TOMINE: Yeah. I think...

Oh [expletive]. He thought you'd get the usual stuff about comics not being just for kids anymore. Or maybe you're in...

LIMBONG: For a guy who doesn't like talking to people, especially about himself, why write a memoir cataloging what feels like every slip-up, every faux pas, every microaggression both given and received? Something happens later on in the book that snaps his life into perspective and answers that question.

TOMINE: There's a couple sections where I'm either writing or speaking directly to my wife and children, where I'm saying things that I think in reality maybe would be difficult for me to just sit someone down and say, hey, I have to tell you some stuff. And so I was sort of taking advantage of the premise of this book to have those messages committed to paper for my family members to read.

LIMBONG: Cartooning is lonely work, but sitting in a room all day by himself is one way Tomine can feel at ease with other people.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEETWOOD MAC'S "ALBATROSS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
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