October 29, 2012 | by Peter Terzian
In “Missed Connection,” Adrian Tomine’s now-famous New Yorker cover illustration, a boy and a girl spot each other through the windows of subway cars headed in opposite directions. They’re both reading the same book—potentially perfect for each other, they’re destined not to meet. The image sums up what makes city life frustrating but also thrilling: the possibility of romance around every corner, the sense of isolation in a crowd, the higher-than-usual incidence of bookish hotties. Tomine began contributing crisp, colorful artwork to the magazine in 1999 and has continued to produce covers that often gently send up urban reading habits. The newly released New York Drawings collects the entirety of Tomine’s New Yorker work, along with his illustrations for other periodicals, book jackets, and album covers.
But commercial illustration is only one part of Tomine’s career. The thirty-eight-year-old artist began publishing comics as a teenager. His stories of young misfits and malcontents, serialized in his semiregular comic book, Optic Nerve, have been collected in book form as Sleepwalk and Other Stories, Summer Blonde, and a full-length graphic novel, Shortcomings. His short, funny, loose autobiographical comic strips pop up throughout his books; last year’s Scenes from an Impending Marriage narrated Tomine’s wedding preparations in the style of classic newspaper funnies.
A West Coast native, Tomine moved to Brooklyn eight years ago. We met one evening at a pastry shop near his home in Park Slope.
It seems obvious that by now your New Yorker work has given you more visibility than your comics. How do you feel about that?
It definitely reaches a broader audience. At this point there are a lot of people who know me through The New Yorker and have no idea about the comics I do. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising to me. I’ve separated the two jobs in my mind quite a bit, and that’s been useful. I’m sometimes a cartoonist and there’s an audience for that, and I’m sometimes an illustrator and there’s an audience for that.
But there must be some relationship between the two.
July 17, 2012 | by Peter Terzian
Rebecca Gates’s former band, the Spinanes, released their first album, Manos, in 1993. Indie pop was in its halcyon days, and Manos reached number one on the college charts. Like Elliott Smith and Lois Maffeo—her friends and colleagues in the Pacific Northwest music scene—Gates sang opaque, suggestive lyrics in a gentle and ruminative voice. But her dense guitar and Scott Plouf’s propulsive drums (they were a duo, with no bassist) were also inspired by punk. Strand, their 1996 follow-up, expanded their musical palette with experimental sounds and more complex instrumentation. After Plouf left the band, Gates moved to Chicago, where she recorded a third and final Spinanes album, 1998’s Arches and Aisles, with help from members of such simpatico post-rock bands as Tortoise and the Sea and Cake.
May 9, 2012 | by Peter Terzian
Alison Bechdel’s first graphic memoir, Fun Home , told the story of her small-town Pennsylvania childhood, which was dominated by her often tyrannical father. An obsessive home restorer and closeted homosexual, he died a possible suicide just as his college-age daughter was coming out as a lesbian. Six years after Fun Home, Bechdel has published a second memoir in comics form, Are You My Mother? , but it’s more than simply the maternal counterpart to its predecessor. Thrillingly discursive, it’s framed by the artist’s struggle to create Fun Home and broker her mother’s acceptance of its public unearthing of family secrets. Bechdel recounts episodes from her romantic relationships, her beginnings as the cartoonist of the long running Dykes to Watch Out For strip, and her struggles, through fruitful years of psychotherapy, to come to terms with her sometimes difficult relationship with her mother. (The book may be one of the truest accounts of what it’s like to be on the therapist’s couch today.) Throughout, Bechdel plumbs the life and writings of Donald Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst who pioneered the field of object relations and stressed the importance of early mother and child bonding. Over lunch at New York’s Via Emilia, Bechdel confessed her childhood affection for “silly children’s comics like Little Lulu and Richie Rich,” which shows in the clarity and warmth of her artwork.
August 16, 2011 | by Peter Terzian
Emmy the Great is the stage name of Emma-Lee Moss. (The moniker was a university joke that stuck.) The twenty-eight-year-old Anglo-Chinese musician first began to attract attention in the mid-2000s, when a set of her acoustic demos, recorded for a school project, began floating around the Internet, and she subsequently became associated with a group of young London-based folk revivalists that included Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Mumford and Sons. Her debut album, First Love (2009), was built around acoustic guitar and her bright, quavering voice. But her early songs also reshaped classic indie pop and girl-group tropes into funny, wordy tales of romantic disappointment: a boyfriend who whiles away his life watching back-to-back episodes of 24; a girl who has a one-night affair with a guy who plays her the song “Hallelujah” (“the original Leonard Cohen version,” the narrator makes clear). Moss’s new album, Virtue, is both more mature and more heartbroken. The songs were written around her real-life breakup with her former fiancé, who left her on the eve of their wedding to join a religious order. We met one July morning on London’s Oxford Street (“About to meet Serious Journalist from Abroad … At Top Shop. #igottopickthevenue,” she tweeted) and went to a Soho café.
Musicians often say they don’t want to explain their lyrics or talk about the autobiographical elements in their songs because they want the listener to be free to project his or her own stories onto them. But with this album you’ve talked openly to the press about the breakup of your engagement and how it led to these songs.
June 30, 2011 | by Peter Terzian
I graduated from college in the late 1980s with a degree in English literature and no real idea of what to do for a career. One afternoon I wandered out of Harvard Square after a movie at the Brattle Theater and saw the grand yellow Georgian mansion where the nineteenth-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had lived. A sign said that it was open to the public for tours; they must hire tour guides, I thought. I imagined it would be pleasant to work in a dusky, book-filled house, tucked away in a quiet pocket of the world. I went inside and filled out an application.
When I got a call a few weeks later, it was to interview for an opening at a different, affiliated historic site: John F. Kennedy’s birthplace, a not so grand, actually kind of poky early-twentieth-century house in the nearby suburb of Brookline. I was a little disappointed, as I didn’t have much interest in the Kennedys. But I didn’t have any other employment prospects either, so when an offer was extended, I accepted. My parents were pleased, at least. I had grown up hearing from them about the shock of the Kennedy assassination, how they had gathered with friends in front of the television set and mourned for days—for four days, to borrow the title of a commemorative book my father had on our shelves back home.
The National Park Service maintained both Longfellow’s and Kennedy’s houses, and I was surprised to find that my title would be “park ranger,” something I had never thought I’d be. On my first day I was given a catalog from which I was to order a ranger’s uniform: flared pants and a shirt with epaulettes, both dull green and made of stiff, scratchy, nonbreathable polyester; and a broad-brimmed campaign hat, the kind that Smokey Bear wore. I was at war with my uniform and its hopeless lack of coolness from the beginning. When my half-hour break came around each noontime, I did a quick change into my civilian clothes in the bathroom before going to pick up lunch in nearby Coolidge Corner, where I might run into someone I knew, and another quick change when I got back. There was barely time left to eat.
September 30, 2010 | by Peter Terzian
This is the second installment of Terzian’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
8:00 A.M. Help the convalescent Caleb into a car-service limo to JFK, where he’ll board a flight to Rochester. This afternoon he gives his Melville lecture. We’ll rendezvous in Albany, where I grew up and where my father still lives, tomorrow: Caleb will fly in from Rochester in the afternoon, I’ll drive up from Brooklyn with Toby in the evening. On Saturday morning the three of us will drive to a rented cottage in Deer Isle, Maine, for a belated summer vacation. “Pack sweaters,” we are told by just about everyone.
8:57 A.M. Shave with Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” playing in my head. Sometimes I try to trace a seemingly random song in my head to its origin—a stray thought, a phrase in a book, something overheard—but I fail with this one. I haven’t been lying in any burned out basements lately.
9:27 A.M. On the subway, read Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy1—I’m toggling back and forth between this and Poser on my commute. There are a lot of animals in Bedford’s autobiographical novel, which is set in fin de siècle Berlin, and sometimes she holds back the fact that they’re animals. In one section, we’re told that a new character, Robert, is in the kitchen breaking plates, and two pages later he climbs into a young girl’s lap—Robert, we discover, is actually a monkey. In the passage I read today, the narrator describes the irritable donkey she had as a child who is “fond of music full of brass, and it was for her benefit that the gramophone was set a-trigger at tea-time under the lime tree.”
12:58 P.M. Take the subway on my lunch break to Chelsea, to see an exhibit of new work by David Shrigley at Anton Kern Gallery. This is the second time I’ve seen this show. I went to the opening two weeks ago with a couple of friends, but split off to talk to David, whom I interviewed last year for a travel article about the Glasgow arts scene, then had to rush through the gallery to catch up. David is tall and gentlemanly. The Glasgow trip was my last travel story, and I’ve been feeling misty-eyed about it lately. I told David that Glasgow was my favorite city, and he said, “Well, that’s ridiculous2.” Today I want to spend more time with the show, when it’s less crowded. The centerpiece is a row of ten pairs of empty black ceramic boots3. A row of his funny drawings lines the walls, and hanging outside the building is a desperate-looking placard that says, “IT’S ALL GOING VERY WELL NO PROBLEM AT ALL.” There’s also a wall with small, protuberant digits beneath a model of the word God. My favorite thing here, though, might be a sculpture of a rib cage set on the floor in a circle of light from the skylight above, which I find inexplicably moving.
1:34 P.M. Think about how I don’t think about Pavement when I’m not reading encomiums to Pavement shows.
7:05 P.M. Get my hair cut at Whistle, a salon in the East Village. “Um … so do you know this actor Andrew Garfield?” Will, my haircutter, does! I come out with a modified, less actorly updo.
9:04 P.M. Caleb calls. The lecture was a success, the people at Geneseo lovely.
10:05 P.M. What to read over a week in Maine? First, the books I’m halfway through: A Legacy, Poser. Then some magazines: the new Paris Review, the new London Review of Books with a piece about creative-writing programs by Elif Batuman I’ve been hearing about, last week’s London Review with the Alan Bennett story I never finished. And now comes the joy of selecting un-begun books from the shelf. I settle upon three short ones, as I had intended: two New York Review Books Classics—James Schuyler’s Alfred and Guinevere, one of Caleb’s favorites, and Maria Dermoût’s The Ten Thousand Things, which my friend Jeff Rotter has praised in a Facebook post; and Colm Tóibín’s The Heather Blazing, in a tiny hardcover Bloomsbury Classic edition with a hand-painted cover. I’ll bring The Oxford Book of English Verse, of course, for romantic reading over breakfasts studded with wild Maine blueberries. And then the big question: to bring Ulysses or leave it behind? For vacation, shouldn’t I pack “pleasure” reading? But Ulysses gives me great pleasure—the kind of pleasure found in difficulty4. But shouldn’t I bring books that don’t require entire other books of annotation? I end up voting in favor—a quiet Maine cottage seems like the right place for a distraction-free geek-out. Read More »
- Shockingly out of print.
- He had a point—we were at a big, fancy art gallery in New York, after all.
- $28,500 a pair.
- Caleb has no such ambivalence—he’s packed The Faerie Queene.