Graphic Collection: New York Drawings by Adrian Tomine

The cover of his new collection features his first published illustration in the New Yorker

New York Drawings is a full-colour collection of illustrations and comics by American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, much of which has featured in the New Yorker. His working relationship with the magazine has produced a distinctive body of work stretching over thirteen years to the present day (see his recent, but already iconic, election week cover).

The starkly realistic, monochrome style of Tomine’s early work, inspired by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Daniel Clowes, has slowly adapted in recent years to a full-colour, rounder aesthetic indebted to classic traditions of cartooning, first found in 2011’s instalment of Tomine’s ongoing graphic series Optic Nerve, currently published by Drawn and Quarterly. Tomine’s only graphic novel, Shortcomings (2007), tackled his own move to New York from San Francisco, but felt underwhelming when compared to the strikingly economical shorts of Optic Nerve. Equally, New York Drawings consistently evidences Tomine’s finest skill: the ability to evoke an intriguing narrative from a single, sparingly composed image, capturing the slight and fleeting moments of the everyday.

A recurring theme is the discovery of the city’s beauty in unexpected places. The introductory three-page comic depicting Tomine’s social anxiety about being at a publishing party alone gives way to fascination at the sight of an unseen aspect of the city through the bathroom window. Elsewhere, it’s the split second of eye contact between subway passengers in parallel carriages reading the same book (see left: Tomine’s first New Yorker cover), and a young girl’s wistful last glimpse of New York through the car’s rear window as her family embark on a holiday. Tomine has an uncanny knack for depicting facial expressions—eyes dart, collarbones quiver.

Tomine has expressed before how his experience of New York coincides with his experiences of marriage and parenthood, and two autobiographical comics tackle these subjects with well-judged humour. Annotated experiments and sketches in documenting the architecture of his new home appear with notes offering welcome insights into the artistic process; there’s a certain unknowable quality to many of these pieces, conjuring the bewilderment of moving. “Ash Monday” displays a woman in a geisha dress whose face is masked by a plume of grey smoke threatening to obscure half of the composition.


Two of his finest drawings in this collection share the same high-contrast pairing of blue-grey skies dotted with the faint yellow of apartment block lights. While “Double Feature” (above left) depicts an outdoor film screening beneath Brooklyn Bridge and celebrates shared experience; “A-C” (above right) portrays the loneliness of city life—a young woman lies beneath her air conditioner to soothe her sunburn, the dim glow of neighbouring buildings visible through her wide-open window, while the grid aspect of the looming architecture and the straight lines of the window sill and A-C unit below it contrast against the curvature of her supine body, which stretches across the length of the composition’s lower quarter. The subdued palette is masterfully balanced, and makes for a sensitively realised portrayal of solitude.

“The God of War”

A number of compositions appear as disappointingly small reproductions—in particular, the pieces which accompanied New Yorker film articles; it would have been preferable to be able to fully appreciate the portrait of Orson Welles and the illustration of the 2006 drama Little Children. Thankfully, Tomine’s ethereal take on Mulholland Drive is reproduced across two pages. This composition’s choked wisps of sky, along with The God of War’s roughly cross-hatched shadows cast by two cyclists, provide a textural counterpoint to Tomine’s favoured clean-line approach. Hidden away in small print at the back of the volume are Tomine’s enlightening and humourous notes on selected pieces. It’s a shame these aren’t given more prominence.

These minor caveats aside, New York Drawings stands as a comprehensive document of a singular artist’s graduation from self-published zines to newsstands, his exploration of a sprawling, surprising city, and his mission to celebrate the minutiae of human interaction. And long may it continue.

New York Drawings was first published in November 2012. It is available in hardback from Faber & Faber, UK.
Read Litro‘s interview with Adrian Tomine from September 2011.
You can also read about how Tomine created his first ever cover for the New Yorker over at the Faber blog. More of Adrian Tomine at

Graphic Shorts: Where’s North from Here? by David Ziggy Greene

Following the International Alternative Press Festival earlier this month, the publishing collective has just released the second effort from French cartoonist David Ziggy Greene. Where’s North from Here? comprises ten graphic shorts in sixty-four A4 pages populated by comically bulbous characters driven manic by odd compulsions and bizarre quests.

While Greene’s lines are wiry and his shading spare, each page bulges with content, with explosions of flailing limbs (usually dismembered) spilling onto the margins—see the motif of body parts which adorns the inside cover; and the contents page, in which the text is dwarfed by renderings of organs and intestines [below right]. The design and layout is impressive throughout, the best example being an expertly composed one-page tale of a fatal wrestling match. “Rubber Sandwich”, a crime yarn born from the gruesomely unorthodox use of a table tennis racket, is another well-crafted series of panels.

A number of the stories here feel slightly clipped and seem to have too little space to unfold, failing to deliver on early promise, and lacking satisfying resolutions despite intriguing set-ups. That said, there are two clear highlights in which Greene’s ambitions feel well realised.  “Picacho del Diablo”, a grizzly tale centring on a bereaved woman intent on climbing a mountain after striking a deal with the ruler of the underworld, evidences a striking use of scale. The concluding story “Snow Trap” is a well formed mystery in which two record store employees’ attempts to redeem stole vinyl is hindered by a blizzard, and proves the collection’s most rewarding piece of graphic storytelling.

A page from Where’s North from Here?

Elsewhere, shorter pieces provide visual gags and break up the book effectively, such as “Royal Rumble Rock n Roll Restling”. Scattered throughout the book are also four pages of drawings inspired by gigs the artist has attended; however, they don’t fare quite as well. Although they convey motion well through a raw, sketch-like quality, they feel a little out of place amongst the more refined and considered pieces.

Still, this is an undeniably confident and distinctive book. The surreal flights and dark humour, coupled with the unfettered imagination also evident in Greene’s 2010 collection Swimming with Shoes On and his Private Eye column, make Where’s North from Here? an enjoyable, if not wholly memorable, read.

Available from for £7.
David Ziggy Greene blogs at His two collections hav
e also been translated and published in France by Même Pas Mal.

Jed Mercurio & Wesley Robins: Writer & Illustrator of graphic novel Ascent

Writer Jed Mercurio and illustrator Wesley Robins are the creators of the new Jonathan Cape graphic novel Ascent, which follows the story of one man’s ambitious journey through flight and aviation. Jed’s first novel, Bodies, was chosen by the Guardian as one of the five best debuts of 2002. Wesley is also a winner of the Macmillan prize for children’s book illustration.

Ascent was published in 2007 as a fiction novel by Mercurio. He then collaborated with Robins on the text to create a graphic novel. The main character, Yefgenii Yeremin, was raised in an orphanage, but rises above the harsh conditions of his background to become one of the most prominent Soviet fighter pilots in history. But in the Korean war, the Soviet Union’s involvement must be kept secret, so Yeremin is exiled to an Arctic base. His name is erased and his identity wiped clean. He lives as a ghost, a shadow of his former heroic victories… until the day he is called back for one final mission.

With Jed Mercurio

What is your earliest childhood memory?
When I was a toddler, I saw a gigantic industrial digger. I was so impressed that apparently I talked about it for years afterwards.

What makes you happy?
Getting the job done well.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I was a practising hospital doctor when my first scripts got produced (Cardiac Arrest). Later I was also going through a selection process for the Army Air Corps. Instead I decided to take a sabbatical to concentrate full time on writing – fifteen years later, I’m still on it.

How much of your writing is drawn from life and how much from your imagination?
I’m lucky to have had a lot of inspiring life experiences (medicine, the RAF), but for me storytelling is still primarily an act of imagination.

What are you reading at the moment?
Point Omega by Don DeLillo

What advice would you give to a first time writer?
To write a lot and read a lot.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Golf – it makes me feel like such a middle-class suburban cliché.

How do you relax?
I love sport, to watch, but especially to play – football, tennis and golf.

What’s the worst job you’ve had?
I’ve been lucky to do brilliant jobs – hospital doctor, RAF officer and writing. The only bad one I’ve ever had was a summer job in a factory while at Medical School. It was hard, repetitive and tiring, apart from the day when the welder was off sick and they asked me to step in.

What is the most important thing life has taught you?
Take-offs are optional, landings are mandatory.

First page of Ascent

With Jed Mercurio and Wesley Robins

What is your favourite comic book or graphic novel?

JED: I was a huge Marvel fan as a kid. I loved the Incredible Hulk. My favourite graphic novel is Watchmen.

WES: Maybe When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs. Or Maus by Art Spiegelman, or Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia, plus anything by Seth. Don’t think I can pick a favourite!

Which comic book author/artist is underrated or deserves to be better-known?

JED: Wesley Robins.

WES: Really like Jon McNaught’s work at the moment – very atmospheric and has a lovely limited palette. 

What made you decide to work together on Ascent?

JED: I was looking for a fresh artistic talent for the book and viewed art school graduate shows. Wesley’s work really stood out. I emailed him and over a Starbuck’s persuaded him to draw an audition page for the book.

WES: Jed was looking to turn his original book into a graphic novel and had been going around different end of year shows at different uni’s. I was one of a few people asked if I’d like to submit some spreads of the book – examples of how I would interpret it. After a short selection process, I was the last one left!

Wesley, what’s your working background?

WES: This is my first graphic novel, and was also my first big commission. Previously at uni, I had done a lot of children’s work and some print (particularly etching) and reportage, so I liked and continue to like to cross over a bit, and draw on different areas and working methods.

How do you collaborate on turning Jed’s novel into graphic fiction?

JED: Wes did the hard part. I’d already done the original novel – two years of writing and research. I abridged it into script form, chapter by chapter. Wes emailed me rough panels, I’d give notes, he’d flesh them out, I’d give more notes, and then we’d move on to the next chapter. Although we talked on the phone a few times, we didn’t meet again until the book was finished.

WES: Basically Jed would provide me with a script – an already edited down version of the book. I would then go over it, rough out the corresponding pages to get an idea of the pacing and compositions etc. I’d send them over to Jed to see what he thought – they’d be a bit of a discussion back and forth before okaying them, and then I’d move on to the finals.

What’s the best thing about working in collaboration?

JED: TV is highly collaborative while novel writing feels an isolated process. For me, this project struck a happy medium.

WES: Being able to talk over ideas with someone, getting continuous feedback. It’s always nicer to share your work as you go along with someone, rather than being completely closed off.

And the worst?

JED: Wesley was so enthusiastic and turned in such brilliant art that there wasn’t a bad moment at all. I enjoyed every minute.

WES: I don’t think there is. It’s easy if you’re working on your own to get a bit cut off from the rest of the world in your own little vision. It might be OK if you’re working on your own story, and if you have a particular direction you’re determined to take and don’t want to compromise, but in this case that didn’t apply.

What’s the next project?

JED: We’ve talked to the publisher about another graphic novel but nothing’s confirmed yet. I’d love to work with Wes again but I’m worried we won’t be able to afford him now!

WES: I have recently finished a line of kids’ travel booklets, and have just started on a set of paper toys for children.

And finally… pitch us a new superhero in 50 words (and a sketch if possible)!

JED: I think I’ll delegate that one to Wes!

WES: Might have to get back to you on that! Though it would probably be some rubbish power, something mundane like ‘cat litter guy’, or ‘loose change boy’.

How to Make a New Memory

Undead Uprising

The Walking Dead, Issue109

Board up your windows, hide your kids in the loft, shut the curtains and stock up on tinned food because tonight old pop stars and that woman who used to live opposite you are on their way back from the dead, for this is the age of the zombie uprising.

There was a time when zombie flicks were consigned to b-movies, poor sets and the ugly side of horror. In the past film fans, critics and producers have treated them as an ugly duckling with no chance of flying, something that will never blossom – the heroes were just out of shorts; the heroines were in no way going to get their white cotton gowns covered in brain goo.

In recent years however, zombie based entertainment has risen. George Romero revolutionised the way we approached the genre, giving accessibility to Pegg and Frost’s Shaun of the Dead to storm worldwide box offices. On top of this there are a number of movies clawing at our windows and going in for the bite from the shelves of the world cinema aisle, Rec, Horde and The Siege to name a few. Most prominently on our screens as of late is The Walking Dead, which is about to embark on a second series. Based on the series of graphic novels by Tony Moore and Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead uses various personal dramas and sultry looks to take the zombie genre through a roller coaster of brains, crying and out the other side with a barrel load more style than we see on something that generally ends up being aired somewhere between a dodgy roulette show and teletext highlights.

We’ve all decided to have a night on the sofa, a tub of Rolo ice cream and a hope to be scared until our pants turn brown, but often we’re let down and it’s the comedy aspect of these zombie flicks that get us through melted toffee and iron brew.

Could it be then that graphic novels have taken the once hated Zombie, the untouchable curse, and nurtured it? Have graphic novels taken in an unwanted orphan and raised it upwards into a fine specimen of man that holds court in the most elegant of situations? It is entirely possible.

Graphic novels were, for a very long time, the only place a zombie could go in this world without fear of being shot at, feared and made an outcast by bit-part mayor with nothing but the price of oil on his mind. Titles such as Fubar and Zombifrieze have been instrumental in the genre’s growth and of course The Walking Dead being on the receiving end of endless praise. Since the late 2000’s the books have been on the increase tenfold, and the ugly duckling of the 80’s reached swan-like status gaining notoriety in places they were mocked before, Colin stormed Cannes and the pre-mentioned Shaun of the Dead took a clean headshot at to the world of cinema.

There may of course be other factors involved in this growth, but the nanny role the graphic novel has played in keeping the zombie safe has seemingly been invaluable in recent times. It has seen the little un-dead gem grow from the first day of school, before biting his way through classes and lessons, the good and bad times, the first kiss and the high school dance before coming out the other side a very employee, in demand and much loved young man – with a hell of a future ahead.

Keith Hodges

Jeffrey Lewis: Comic Artist, Musician & Filmmaker

Jeffrey Lewis

Jeffrey Lewis is a musician, cartoonist and self-proclaimed lo-fi filmmaker from New York. He is celebrated for his ceaseless creativity and unique performances, which combine art and music in the form of low-budget hand-drawn music videos and documentaries (such as his take on the French Revolution, filmed for the History Channel). As a tie-in to Litro #109: Comics & Graphic Fiction, I speak to the prolific artist about comics, creativity and his impending UK tour for his new album, A Turn In The Dream-Songs.

Do you feel fortunate that you’re able to incorporate your comics into your performances? Since, apart from perhaps Q&A events, cartooning is a very solitary pursuit, with few opportunities to present directly to an audience.
Absolutely, considering the fact that with music the touring element is an accepted part of the whole, so you are able to take your art out to people all over the world instead of staying at home waiting for the world to come to you.  Comic books are more in the stay-at-home-and-wait category, so it’s very lucky for me that I have a good way to take my comics out to the world via the music touring.  And the illustrated songs that I do in performances are another good way to combine the elements of both.

Do you think drawing allows a mental break from writing, which is consistently intensive?
Yes, there’s a different part of the brain that I use when the drawing gets past the idea/sketch part and can switch to autopilot. That’s my favourite part, whether it’s inking, or colouring, or an elaborate perspective drawing, or any other task that allows the verbal brain to take a rest and listen to music, that’s where I get a lot of music-listening done. Just putting on album after album while engaged in those tasks, that’s a great way to spend time. But the earlier planning stages of the comic stuff requires much more focus in a way that doesn’t allow me to talk to people or listen to music, just different parts of the brain. I once read that Daniel Clowes (author of Ghost World and David Boring) concentrates so much even on the inking of his comics that not only does he not listen to music, he actually has to wear headphones to block out all sounds, and that’s even at the parts of the process that I’d consider the “autopilot” parts.

Do you think it’s a shame that comic publishing seems to be moving more in the way of graphic novels, with less and less serialised comics being published these days?
I do prefer the regular comic book format. The days when I could go to a comic store once or twice a month and find a new issue of Peepshow, Underwater, Eightball, or Optic Nerve: you wouldn’t quite know what you were going to find that week, but chances are you’d find at least one new comic that you could be excited about buying for a couple bucks and reading on the train on the way home, or while sitting on a stoop on the street. Nowadays there’s no point in going to a comic store more than twice a year, because all the same artists are only releasing their work when they’ve got eight years worth of pages to compile into a giant tome. There’s no surprise about finding it, because now it’s treated like a new novel or movie or album, with advance press releases and book reviews and signing tours, so you know in advance exactly when this new big thing is going to be released. Plus it’s a bigger investment, both of time and money. Also, if the only really good comic books are coming out in only big book form then it even renders comic book stores obsolete, these big books are designed to be sold in bookstores so the comic industry is sort of backstabbing the comic stores that built up their fans in the first place.  That’s my take on it all, anyway.

Are their plans to make a ninth edition of Fuff (Jeffrey’s self-published comic book)?
Definitely, I just haven’t had time to start it because the album artwork for A Turn In The Dream-Songs ended up much more elaborate than I’d anticipated.  But I’m almost ready to print Fuff # 0 which is a 72-page collection of earlier comics from 1998-2001, all of the little comics that I used to use as advertisements for my concerts when I was first playing shows in NYC.  I had released this collection in photocopied form around 2002 but it’s been out of print for a long time and this new printing will be better quality, with more material.  It’s taking a long time to clean up and format all the pages but I’m almost ready to send it to the printer.  There’s a lot of other old comic stuff of mine that I might reprint too, maybe I’ll do a Fuff -1 and a Fuff -2, though really I should be getting to work on Fuff +9.

Can we expect to see any new music videos at the UK dates later this year?
I’ve got at least one new one that nobody’s seen yet, and a couple from last year that I barely performed live at all because I didn’t have them memorized, so I’d like to incorporate those into the upcoming shows at least a few times. I’ll bring some of my old music videos along, too. During our recent China and South Korea tours I performed my illustrated History of Communism in China, and my other illustrated history song The History of Communism in Korea. It was a great opportunity to see if I had gotten the stories right at all.

If I’m not mistaken, you spent some time studying in London. What was your impression of the city while you during your time there?
It was very exciting to be away from America for the first time. I was in Ealing for a few months in 1996, so it wasn’t exactly the heart of London or the heart of anything, but even living in the suburbs was a thrill to a kid like me who grew up in the city.  The guy that I shared my room with was a strange force in my life, we were at odds about many things but we both agreed that it was very important to not spend our little bit of money and little bit of time on anything pointless – instead we used our bit of cash to take weekend bus trips to Scotland, or hitchhike around Ireland, stuff like that.  We became so frugal that we actually decided to be homeless for a few weeks when the weather was warm enough.  We would stash our school stuff at the lockers in the school building and do our homework in the university library and then sneak into the park to sleep at night.  So we were doing all this travelling together and having this homeless experience, basically depending on each other for survival, even though we had some serious personality conflicts.

I remember stumbling on a small comic book shop that was selling original comic book pages, including original art pages from V For Vendetta and Watchmen.  They were only about £200 – 300 per page at the time, which of course was way out of my budget, all I could do was stare at them, but I’m sure that now those pages must be worth a small fortune.  I don’t think I’ve ever found that shop again in all the times I’ve been back to London, but I’m sure those pages are long, long gone in any case.

And of course Alan Moore’s comics informed a lot of my impression of London, because this was during the time when the From Hell series was coming out, concerning London history and architecture and city planning, so that was on my mind a lot during my time in London.

What can we expect from A Turn in the Dream-Songs?
I generally lean towards a more scattered batch of material, I think consistency has been sort of my enemy on most of my albums and concerts, but this new record is a lot more consistent than the albums I’ve done before, for better or worse.  It’s mostly the same musicians on every track, and all recorded in the same room, plus it’s the first time I’ve put out an official album that has zero input from my brother Jack (my usual bass player and occasional song collaborator).  So, this is sort of my first solo album in a way.

During your set at Brixton Windmill last May, there was a song with the lyrics: “time is going to take so much away, but there’s a way that time can offer you a trade: you better do something that you can get better at, ‘cos that’s the only thing time will leave you with.” Do the lyrics describe your motivation for creating?
That’s on the new album. The older you get, the faster time seems to go, everybody knows that. So how come people don’t wait until later in life to do things that take a long time? It would be so much faster to do a 3-year project when you’re 40 years old than it would be to do a 3-year project when you’re 20 years old.

A Turn in the Dream-Songs will be released by Rough Trade on 10 October; On the same day, Jeffrey will give a presentation of his artwork at London’s Rough Trade East. More information here.

For the full details on Jeffrey’s UK tour, click here.

Photographic Novels

Photographic novel fron Night Zero

Technology is always moving forwards, things are always changing – we went from two slice toasters to four slice toasters and onto those machines that make endless amounts of toast in just a few years. Now it seems the graphic novel could be in for a small change, or new a cousin at least.

The ‘photographic novel’ is a relatively new concept creeping onto the graphic novel shelves with the ambition of a young boy on his way to the beach with a very big net. Photographic novels use actors and actresses on location to create stories much like those in graphic novels, only using eye shadow instead of felt tip pens, and the weird alley behind your aunt’s house.

The website for the photographic novel series Night Zero, a collection based in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, has a strap line that reads ‘no illustrations or illusions, only what can be seen and touched’. This approach is an obviously interesting take on how the genre as sprouted a limb that moulds itself to the technology of today, the endless release of new cameras, as well as the accessibility of software that allows creativity to flow in ways that could only be dreamt of before.

The process has a film production feel to it, only with less Christian Bale and more drama students, ones to watch for the future maybe? Photographic novels create a story in the same way as a graphic novel or comic book would, there are dialogue bubbles, different scenes and all the drama you get from a graphic novel, there’s just no drawing, which of course limits how experimental photographic novels can be with monsters and crazy doctors in underground basements.

The Night Zero site offers a deep insight to the whole process though (click on what is a photographic novel in the bottom left), from the script cards to the post production adding of bubbles and beyond – all very enlightening stuff.  This process is in no way less painstaking than putting together a graphic novel, every intricate detail is mapped out before.

The differences are obviously vast as well, the process involves a huge amount of people, right down to extras, as well as the immense amount of technical issues you just wouldn’t see with a packet of pens and a large pad of paper. Of course the differences and similarities could be thrown back and forth all day, monkeys and humans are so alike, yet so different.  They both have their strong points, monkeys can climb trees but humans have ladders. This is the feeling here, the graphic novel is surreal, intriguing and wholly exciting; the photographic novel is realistic, in your face and offers a nice lemon twist on the average graphic novel. Check them out, see what you think!

Keith Hodges




Comics Get Technical

Marvel app allowing users to download comics

You’d be forgiven for thinking that iPads are mainstream, for people going to and from finance offices that want to pass the time looking at Facebook on a crisp screen, or play Angry Birds more intensely than the guy opposite with his tiny iPod.  However, the device offers a lot more – and has seemingly re-kindled a passion for comic books and graphic novels world wide.

Back in the day, when people wore orange flares and the Bee Gee’s were a starry eyed young trio looking out on the world with nothing the dream to sing angelically in high pitched tones to anybody that would listen, comic books and graphic novels had tatty corners, coffee stains and carried an essence of fear that your mum might throw them away.

“MUM!” You’d scream from the top of the stairs, “I hadn’t finished with it yet.” Then back to your room you’d go, the sun creeping through the crack in the curtains and casting a line across the floor that designated who was Good and who was Evil, and you’d wait for the next issue.

The iPad however has changed this; there is no waiting in the darkness, there is no action figure war of Good vs. Evil and most importantly your mum can’t throw away your comics because you don’t live with her anymore and you’ve put a password on the iPad, just in case. Seemingly the iTunes app store has more apps than there are people, so to say “there’s something for everyone” would be to say the Bee Gee’s took their flares and conquered their dreams one epic tune at a time, it was always going to happen.

The comic book and graphic novel selection within the app store is vast, with collections of comics such as the Marvel app offering the reader to download any comic from Spiderman, to Iron-Man, Captain America and Thor – all very popular with the recent film releases behind them. DC also have their app with Superman and co. all on board for a 2011 tablet revamp.

On top of this IDW Comics have their own app offering Transformers, Astroboy, Star Trek and more. They also have separate apps for each comic, such as the Star Trek IDW app, the Transformers equivalent and even G.I Joe gets a look in, once again all very popular with recent film releases. Something that brings all these apps together as one is the iVerse comic reader, the Spotify of the comic world. Much like Spotify lets you download the Bee Gee’s greatest hits in seconds, iVerse is a platform that offers iPad users the chance to read Marvel, Image, IDW and Archie comics, all at the click of a button whilst your mum waits anxiously for the enxt spring clean.

There are also various graphic novels available for download as apps, should you be more of a novelist than a superhero.  The Carrier, and Luke McBain get their own apps – both novels that would offer anyone hours of entertainment as they wait somewhere between London Bridge and New Cross to get home and feed the cat. Should you require something darker, something to release the pain of seeing a Spiderman special that your mum threw away being sold on eBay for near a thousand pound then there’s a selection of novels called Carnival Comics. Each app is a separate episode in the series and offer an alternative from capes and masks and gives you creepy clowns and shadowy figures with the glint of something sinister in their circus faces.

Obviously a real comic connoisseur may not entirely agree with the e-versions of all their favourites, they’d even argue that the Bee Gee’s sound better on vinyl and that tatty corners and coffee stains give feeling and character to the work. There is however something magical in the apps making the comics transferrable, accessible and enjoyed worldwide – without the fear of them being binned.

Keith Hodges

Adrian Tomine: the Raymond Carver of Illustration

Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is an American cartoonist and illustrator whose distinctive, meticulous and elliptical style, complete with strikingly realistic characters and minutely observed dialogue, has earned him the label of “one of the greatest graphic novelists of our time”. Tomine’s comics delve into the lives of characters struggling with ingrained flaws and loneliness, striving to communicate or even connect with those around them: the eagerness of "Summer Blonde" (Summer Blonde)'s protagonist to bond with an attractive shop assistant soon leads to stalking; a young lady in "The Connecting Thread" (in Sleepwalk) is driven increasingly paranoid by personal ads she is convinced are addressed to her. These stories are sometimes melancholic and disturbing, but always deeply human, crafted with a deep sensitivity and honesty in the absence of conclusive resolutions.

Tomine self-published his series Optic Nerve while still at high school, and they are now published in issues by Drawn & Quarterly. His published comic books include Sleepwalk (1997); Summer Blonde (2002); Shortcomings (2007), Tomine's longest work yet, which details the failed relationships of neurotic Asian American Ben Tanaka; and Scenes from an Impending Marriage, a collection inspired by his wedding preparations, released earlier this year. Tomine's illustrations also appear on the covers and pages of the New Yorker. With the twelfth issue of Optic Nerve set to appear next month, I speak to the man himself about his influences, his evolving style and his creative process.

“Missed Connection”, The New Yorker, 8 Nov 2004.

In many ways, comics are like films on paper. Which filmmakers would you say have influenced your visual sense?

I don’t know that any filmmakers have really influenced my visual sense, at least not as the result of a conscious effort on my part. Applying cinematic techniques to cartooning is kind of setting yourself up for failure, because at best you can only approximate or translate many of the qualities that make movies so exciting. But certainly there are many filmmakers that I’ve admired and studied in terms of content and writing.  A few that spring to mind: Mike Leigh, Woody Allen, and Yasujiro Ozu.

The narration and dialogue in your work displays a flair for language and an ear for dialogue. Do you ever write prose?

Yes, I’m interested in other forms of writing like prose fiction and screenwriting, but I’m most focused on cartooning right now.

Which comic releases have you enjoyed reading so far this year?

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes. I also just got a big stack of comics from a London publisher called Nobrow Press, and I thought it was really beautiful stuff. I’m not sure which volumes came out this year, but I love some of the comic strip reprint projects that are going on now, like Walt & Skeezix, Little Orphan Annie, and Peanuts.

Your work has been compared to Raymond Carver a number of times, presumably because you both portray characters at a loss of what to do with their lives, and present issues which are often not resolved by the end of the story. Is Carver a particular influence, and are there any other authors you would list as inspirations?

I love Carver, of course, but I’m not exceptionally well-read, so I actually discovered his work when his name started popping up in reviews of my comics. I felt obligated to acquaint myself with his writing so I wouldn’t look like a total troglodyte if it came up in conversation. I read that biography of him recently, and it was fascinating, but it also made me like him a little less, both as a writer and a person. But I’m an unapologetic fan of that whole school of realistic, modern short fiction. I love guys like Richard Yates, John Cheever, Andre Dubus. I’ll go through phases where I get burned out on that stuff and then get really interested in something totally different, but those are the kinds of guys I always go back to.

What can readers expect from issue 12 of Optic Nerve?

I just turned it in to my publisher this week, so I’m not really able to look at it objectively. All I can say at this point is that it’s a return to short stories and it’s in colour. I’m a great self-promoter, aren’t I? Actually, I feel like my life has changed so much in the past few years, and for better or for worse, that’s going to be reflected in my work.

Judging by the short preview, issue 12 of Optic Nerve seems to display the less realistic, perhaps more cartoon-like drawing found in Scenes of an Impending Marriage, rather than the style evident in your earlier work. Have you made a conscious decision to move in this direction?

The art style in my comic is certainly evolving. I kind of touched on this earlier when you asked about cinema, but lately I’ve been really trying to think about the unique qualities of cartooning (as opposed to the influence of other media such as cinema, illustration, etc.) and that’s naturally affected the way I draw. That said, part of the appeal of returning to the short story format was that I didn’t have to get locked into any one particular way of working. I think it keeps the inevitable insanity that affects all older cartoonists at bay somewhat if you’re not forced to draw the same thing the same way over and over.

This will be your first comic in full-colour. Why did you decide to work in colour for this issue?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I was working on my book Shortcomings for awhile, and was forced to stick with the black and white format. During that time, I started doing these little one-page colour strips for the New Yorker, and that got me even more eager to work in that way.

Was it daunting at first drawing for the New Yorker, considering the rich line of seminal illustrators they have featured, such as Saul Steinberg?

Oh, I was very intimidated, and it shows. If you find the first drawing I ever did for them, you can tell I was trying so hard that I ended up choking. I’m always grateful that they continued to give me work after that.

A man and a woman in separate subway trains share a glance. A woman receiving a delivery at her front door makes eye contact with her neighbour as he enters his shop front. A young girl cranes her neck to watch New York disappear as she is driven out of the city. Why is it that a lot of your illustrations for the New Yorker depict moments of fleeting contact?

That’s a good question! I don’t have a good answer other than maybe it’s a personal obsession or that it’s just a big part of living in a big city.

With illustration increasingly becoming a digital process, generally, how much of your work is on paper, and how much digital?

All the drawing is done by hand on paper, and the colouring is done on a computer. But even the colouring is fairly man-made. If I want a wispy cloud in the sky, I always draw it with a brush and then turn it into the appropriate colour rather than just using some of the tools in Photoshop.

You’ve said before that as far as social media goes, it’s not for you. The dialogue in your books strongly suggests you are very aware of the intricacies and minutiae of conversation. Your illustration “Facebook” depicts loads of speaking faces emanating from a woman’s computer. Is this why you dislike social media—voices fighting for attention, drowning each other out, language being stripped of subtleties?

It’s just not something I have time for anymore. Social media has already served it’s purpose for me: years ago, a friend of mine put me in touch, via Friendster, with a girl he knew in New York—and now we’re married.

Do you look back on your self-publishing days with fondness?

Yes. Not because I particularly enjoyed the grunt work of stapling comics and whatnot, but because it was the last time in my life when drawing comics was a pure hobby, unencumbered by the need to make a living.

“Little Children”, The New Yorker, 16 Oct 2008.

Is it correct that you used to use photos to capture facial expressions in your earlier work?

No. I’ve never used photo reference for anything other than background details like cars and architecture.

What are you working on at the moment?

An illustration for the New York Times Book Review and the next issue of Optic Nerve.

Optic Nerve: 12 will be released in the US in September. Many thanks to Adrian Tomine and the good people at Drawn & Quarterly.

Shaun Tan

“I don’t understand this book.” A friend stated rather huffily, giving back the thick embossed book I lent to him. “It has no words.”

“What don’t you understand about it? Didn’t you read it?” I asked, baffled. To me, The Arrival made more sense than any literary or graphic novel I had read in a long time. There is a sequential, visual logic to it that justifies its semantic silence.

“I tried to,” he says, now hesitant. “But I think I was reading it wrong.” I give him back the book and tell him to take his time. I’ve seen many people take the book from my hands, flip through it in two seconds and say “that was interesting”, not really grasping the profound meaning behind the images when pored over in chronological order.  I know what they’re all looking for: the words. But there aren’t any in The Arrival, not a single identifiable letter.

“There’s always a set time with words, with the way you’re reading them from left to right. Looking at pictures, however, is a little like map-reading. There isn’t an end or a beginning,” Shaun Tan tells his audience at his inaugural launch event in Waterstone’s. “I find that when you pair text with image, people will always believe the captions first instead of looking at the images.”

So begins almost two hours of conversation; for all of the hauntingly sparse, emotionally loaded words/images in his works, Shaun Tan is chatty and warm: he delivers his anecdotal speeches with eloquence and humour.

“From an early age, I loved words. I figured out how to avoid being bullied at school just because I was good with words. At telling jokes.”

He’s worried about being mistaken for a fine arts academic though. “I love art – but I hate not understanding a lot of it. I do like going to galleries but then I’ll see a painting that requires a PhD to fully understand it. That’s not what I want to achieve in my own work. I want it to be universally accessible; that’s why The Arrival doesn’t have any words in it. Even when I do use words in my work, they’re pared down. I wanted someone without any formal education to be able to understand it as well, because immigration is such a universal theme.”

Born into a Chinese family in Australia, Shaun and his brother grew up as second generation immigrants in Perth. Shaun recalls his fondness for science fiction and writing from a very early age. “I kept writing all these Bradbury-esque short stories at the age of 14 or 15 that were all rejected by the magazines I sent them to. Then I started tacking on illustrations to these stories, hoping that it would get them noticed a bit more. What happened instead was that the publishers would still reject my stories but then ask me to illustrate other people’s stories.”

From there, Shaun went on to illustrate various science fiction stories throughout his college years and then naturally progressed to writing and illustrating his own books post graduation. Since then, he’s won an Oscar for his animated short The Lost Thing and several literary awards. His books could be called ‘children’s books’ but they’re not simply books for children. The strongest case in point for this is The Red Tree, a book showing a series of paintings presenting a dark fragmented journey through a strange alien world. The book is widely loved in Australia and is used by psychotherapists and psychiatrists.

“Creativity is a kind of depression in itself,” Shaun says. “But the worst thing about it was that it felt like such a wasteful experience and I wanted to make something out of it. The Red Leaf is about loneliness and I think everyone, child or adult, can identify with that.” It also helps that Shaun views children as ‘people from another culture’ rather than underdeveloped adults.

The Arrival is almost synaesthetic in its deliverance; we hear things, words, although we are only using our sense of sight. Shaun Tan has seemingly broken into another dimension – neither literature nor comic – that allows for an awareness of language when there is none. He has taken the spatial freedom in the art form of comics (it’s clear that each box, each double page spread, has been carefully thought out in what Mikhail Bahktin calls ‘the chonotope’: how space-time relation integrates to create another language) and paired it with associative symbolist-semantics (we see a picture of hands touching, a symbol for love and reassurance).  Sometimes it takes two pages for the protagonist to land on the ground; other times a single silent image expresses an entire wealth of emotion.

Shaun Tan’s inexperience with comics and lack of formal art training is unique for an artist of his status and talent. He’s a novice, excited by the journey he’s taking in discovering new work. “I was in this bookstore in Perth, and saw this book I had never heard of before that had been published in a special edition, and picked it up,” he chuckles to himself. “It was The Snowman.” He makes comparisons between The Snowman and a few of his novels; a recurrent theme in his works is discovery, finding the unusual in the ordinary.

“There’s a bit in The Snowman that really resonated with me, because it was basically what I had done in a lot of my work. The snowman goes into the house and becomes fascinated with appliances what we take for granted: the fridge, the washing machine. There’s a scene in Eric which is exactly like that.” Shaun shows us the picture. “For example, here he’s wondering if the drain is meant to look like a flower.”

 Eric questions various ordinary things he finds in the house

 The audience laughs and Shaun confesses: “Actually, that’s what I thought when I was little, that drains were supposed to look like flowers.” Eric is a little exchange student/thing who comes to stay with an Australian family for a while. Shaun wrote the story as a response to his own experience with a Finnish exchange student who came to stay with his family a while ago. “We were always worrying about whether he was having a good time or not. But then when we went to visit him in Finland a year later, he showed such enthusiasm about the trip, enthusiasm that we really hadn’t seen in him during the trip. So maybe I thought it was because he couldn’t express himself properly, that he was just so overwhelmed and needed time away from us to collect his thoughts.”

Shaun shows us the last page of Eric, where Eric himself has left his host family (without saying goodbye, no emotional finale: he just sails out the window unnoticed) and they’ve gone to look for him in the kitchen, where he likes to sleep. They find this:

It’s a faultless ending. “Endings are the easiest part of creating a book for me.” Shaun says. The evening ends with him signing everyone’s book, pleasant as ever after a long day of talks and signings. Even his ‘signature’ is not a signature: it’s a symbolic stamp plus a little drawing of the animal he created in The Arrival. Shaun takes his time talking to his audience, from the 70 year old man in front of me to the 10 year old boy behind. It’s refreshing to see that, despite the Oscar and the awards and the acclaim, he’s still in touch with what makes his novels so poignant: human relationships.

Ysabelle Cheung




Litro #109: Comic Fiction

‘Once Upon a Riot’ by Louie Stowell

ArtistLouie Stowell has been drawing cartoons and other illustrations for Litro for a year or so. Her drawings have appeared in other off and online magazines and an annual charity art exhibition called ArtSHO. She also writes children’s books for Usborne and recently co-wrote a book called the Write Your Own Story Book, published at the start of June.


Laika by Magda Boreysza

Magda Boreysza

Magda Boreysza is a freelance artist living in Edinburgh, where she graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2007 with a first-class honours degree in visual communication. As well as illustration work, she is also available for mural commissions. Her comic Toastycats is available in selected shops and online at



I See The Promised Land by Arthur Flowers & Manu Chitrakar

Arthur Flowers

Writer: Arthur Flowers teaches in the English Department of Syracuse University, USA. A native of Memphis and co-founder of The New Renaissance Guild, he is a performance poet who considers himself heir to the western written tradition as well as the African oral one.

Artist: Manu Chitrakar lives and works in Naya village in Bengal. A Patua scroll artist who sings and paints, he is part of a living art and performance tradition that is as open to contemporary news stories and politics as it is to ancient legend and myth.

Leonard Cohen by C.M. Evans

By C. M. Evans

New Superheroes by C. M. Evans

Cartoonist: C.M. Evans, author, artist, thinker, recycler, philanthropist, grew up in Upstate California. His work, (both art and literary) has been published for many years online and offline in places like Milk Magazine, McSweeney’s, Dear Sir, The Bridge and displayed at various venues in the US, China, and Mexico. He is cartoon-editor- at-large for


‘Buffalo Chris’ by Chris Wiewiora & Dan Folgar


An Adventure of Buffalo Chris: Inspiration & Collaboration
By writer Chris Wiewiora

I came up with the idea of a comic series called The Adventures of Barista Chris while I was working for a corporate coffee chain. The storyline would be based on my job. And so, I planned for my co-workers to be drawn as animals (i.e. my bad-tempered boss would be a bear), thus disguising their names, if not their identities.

For each The Adventure there would be an accompanying An Adventure – a tangent narrative that would somehow connect back to The Adventures. For instance, An Adventure of Buffalo Chris is an adaptation of the Texan-American tall tale of Pecos Bill and the taming of his wild horse Widowmaker. The parallels to The Adventures is that Barista Chris rides a dangerous motorcycle he named Betty Jo (in the tall tale the wild horse is named Widowmaker) and also in The Adventures, Chris eventually falls in love with an apron-only wearing – otherwise nude – woman named Eve (like how Sweet Sue captivates Pecos Bill).

But there’s a problem: I can’t draw. Well, it’s not that I can’t draw, it’s that I don’t draw. I don’t draw, because when I do draw, the best I can do is draw birds as a lowercase m up in the sky.

And so, I got my buddy Dan Folgar (also a former corporate coffee employee) to collaborate with me on The Adventures of Barista Chris. I write. He draws. More accurately, Dan illustrates – he brings alive the imagery of my words.

The first thing at the top of my script for Buffalo Chris was a summary of the character(s), desire, and plot in one sentence:

Buffalo Chris is a feral boy who seeks danger via taming a wild horse.

I noticed the word that I kept using in my script was “wild.” And when I think of wildness I think wilderness, and the struggle to survive in that dangerous and unforgiving environment. But I was curious to see how Dan would represent wildness. The concept sketch Dan sent me was of a wiry boy in a loincloth and wearing a buffalo headdress.

I realize that American tall tales are about the United States’ folk heroes like Pecos Bill (or Buffalo Chris). However, I don’t believe that those stories are only about their characters; rather the characters embody their stories’ settings. The character’s character represents their story’s region. More simply, a story is about place, too.

In Dan’s concept sketch, Buffalo Chris’ hands float out and away from his body over the empty space around him. And maybe here, I can switch roles and give some words for Dan’s illustrations of Buffalo Chris: His landscapes are lush as well as wild. Dan gives dynamic images starting in the Texan deserts heading westward along the prairie, through the forests, over the mountains, and all the way to the Pacific Ocean where the sun sets.


Chris Wiewiora

Writer: Chris Wiewiora ( is a MFA candidate at Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and Environment program. He mainly writes nonfiction, but previously collaborated with Dan Folgar illustrating another comic titled Life of the Coffee Bean, published in Bateau. Together, they have compiled a comic anthology that is seeking a publisher.



Dan Folgar

Artist: Dan Folgar is a cartoonist/artist from Miami, FL. He is currently seeking an MFA in visual arts at the Miami International School of Art and Design. He has comics forthcoming in Candy or Medicine, and an online comic series at

Me and my Dad and a Long Time Ago by Neil Dvorak


Neil Dvorak

Writer/artist: Neil Dvorak says: “I think the farthest a human can go is to ask a really great question. Right? There are so few truths or answers on Earth … here are three: I love my friends and family. I love bugs and drawing. I made everything else up.” See

Hand me my Hand by Alan McCormick

‘You can pin a maggot on a mackerel but you can’t pin a mackerel on a maggot,’ whispered the featureless child, his unheard words of wisdom floating away on the wind.

There was lot of wind on the Suffolk coast that day and it was busy dragging the kite belonging to the father of the featureless child along the far side of the beach.

‘Feck it, feck it and feck it,’ scalded Dad.

The snake on a rope thought he said ‘fetch it’ but his impulse to slither over and fetch it was curtailed by a sharp yank on the tie-rope around his neck. His trunk slinked and then coiled up into itself; his gasping tongue protruding to fork the passing currents of air.

Amongst the masses of messed up line attached to the kite emerged a giant ugly deep sea fish. It stank and shouted at a woman and a baby ahead of it.

‘Not mackerel, not a maggot and not a monkfish,’ mumbled and murmured the featureless child.

‘Mmmmer mmmmer mmmmer, can’t make any fecking sense of any fecking thing you say, lad,’ blasted Dad.

‘Sssssand shark, it’sssss a sssssand shark,’ hissssssed the snake.

Dad went to have a closer look. The stinking sand shark bit. He came back with the kite but without his hand.

‘That takes the biscuit,’ sobbed Dad.
‘That took your hand,’ corrected the featureless child.

Dad looked at him for a moment. ‘I understood that bit, lad, you’re right. Good to hear you talk normal for a change.’

The snake slithered back with Dad’s hand.

‘Thanks, snake,’ said Dad with a playful yank at his tie-rope. ‘Now let’s go home, your Mum has got some serious sewing to do.’


Alan McCormick and Jonny Voss

Writer: Alan McCormick’s collection of short stories, and shorter pieces illustrated by Jonny Voss, Dogsbodies and Scumsters, is out now on Roast Books. Alan was recently Writer in Residence for the Stroke charity, InterAct Reading Service. His short stories have won numerous prizes and have been widely published and performed, often in London with the Liars’ League.

Artist: Jonny Voss studied illustration at Brighton University and then went on to study at the RCA. He has been working in London as an illustrator since 2000 – see Alan and Jonny collaborate on illustrated shorts as SCUMSTERS – see,, and



Tintin and the Truth?

With September now here, and with it a new issue of Litro focussed on Comics and Graphic Fiction, I wanted to devote this blog to one of my childhood delights: The Adventures of Tintin. I am not embarrassed to admit that growing up, I had a bit of a crush on the tufty-haired reporter and I can’t deny it’s a fondness that’s lasted into adulthood. I own almost the entire series of books, some of them hardbacks passed down to me. I’ve read them countless times; I’ve also got the animated TV mini-series on DVD box-set; I’ve even visited the official Tintin shop, whilst on holiday in Belgium, where I guiltily read the first few pages of the infamous, once-banned story Tintin in the Congo before hastily putting it back on the shelf and pretending it wasn’t there. Yes, I think it’s fair to say I am a Tintin fanatic: I find it hard to believe that anyone could dislike Hergé’s most famous creation and I certainly wouldn’t think twice about letting any future child of mine enjoy his adventures.

Imagine my surprise, then, on discovering that there are some people today who insist there is more to the world of Tintin than I ever could have imagined at 10 years old: that behind the colourful, childish, cartoon adventures of Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, the stories deal with very real, very adult concerns. Indeed, these concerns are so pressing that the stories have been picked up by various literary critics and led to the creation of ‘Tintinology’, the academic study of The Adventures of Tintin.

Tintinologists dissect the comics, examining what they believe are hidden themes of fascism, gender, family history, addiction, animal cruelty, xenophobia, sexuality and class. At first, I couldn’t believe it but when I returned to the texts recently and looked at them with adult eyes, I could almost see where these academics are coming from. When French critic Serge Tisseron asserts that Captain Haddock is a chronic alcoholic, I have to agree that yes, the Captain certainly drinks with worrying alacrity. Furthermore, it is undeniable that some of the Tintin cartoons are racist – I have already mentioned Tintin in The Congo, its publication in English delayed for many years due to its discriminatory depictions of Africans and, to be sure, Hergé’s portrayals of some other ‘non-European’ cultures is far from flattering or acceptable in today’s society. It’s a problem that splits Tintinologists. Whilst some condemn Hergé for his seemingly racist tendencies, others defend him, arguing that he was only reflecting the times, even going as far as admiring the courage of his convictions. Whether you excuse Hergé or not, accusations of racism certainly add a more complex layer to the Tintin stories than I had first thought.

Some critics, however, have taken the study of Tintin even further. Whilst the majority of Tintinologists are French or Belgian, the British author Tom McCarthy published a book, in 2006, called Tintin and the Secret of Literature, in which he asserts that the stories “hold all of literature’s formal keys, its trade secrets”. He even calls upon the big guns of literary criticism – Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes –and stresses his argument with a zeal only displayed by true Tintin-obsessives and those with an in-depth knowledge of the books that far exceeds my own humble understanding. To McCarthy, Tintin has more potential for subtext than many “real novelists”. To him, Tintin is “the degree zero of personage. He has no past, no sexual identity, no complexities,” and, hence, his stories have a symbolic importance that McCarthy believes equals that of the works of Brontë and Faulkner.

It’s not only academics, however, who are keen to drag Tintin into the adult world. In 1993, Frederic Tuten published Tintin and the New World, in which Tintin experiences sex, drugs and wartime crimes at first hand. This adventure is not for children, with Tuten actually depicting sex scenes between our hero and a character named Clavdia Chauchat and leaving him disillusioned with the world around him. Although the novel received mostly positive reviews, it makes me feel uncomfortable – it seems wrong, somehow, to read erotic paragraphs about Tintin that, for me, take away his innocence forever.

So Tintin is having sex, Captain Haddock is an alcoholic and their creator, Hergé, was a racist: whether you find them interesting or not, these adult perspectives of Tintin and his friends do somewhat mar the simple, child-like enjoyment I used to get out of the stories. With the 26thOctober marking the long-awaited release of Steven Spielberg’s big screen version of the boy reporter’s adventures, the Tintin books are likely to see a resurgence in the coming months and many people, adults and children alike, will pick up the stories once more. So should we stop them, if we are to believe what the academics are telling us, that there is more to Tintin than meets the eye? Should we boycott the boy reporter? Personally, I’m torn – although I find the study of Tintin books very interesting and I can even agree with some of the ideas put forward, I believe there is still much delight to be found in the The Adventures of Tintin. Despite the complex adult issues and the supposed deeper subtext, I would argue that most people won’t find those things when they start reading the books. Instead, they’ll discover exciting tales of adventure, curious mysteries and a spindly-ankled, bequiffed, snub-nosed reporter-turned-detective who is honourable, true and good – and that’s the Tintin I know and love.