Monday, March 10, 2008

Reading: Adrian Tomine

In the two years I lived in D.C., I never went to Politics & Prose. It always seemed too far away, not sufficiently Metro-friendly. That's not to say that I never wanted to go. But near enough to me was Second Story Books and Atticus Books (owned by Gargoyle editor Richard Peabody). I think only one of those still survives today in a bricks-and-mortar form.

Luckily, I finally made it to Politics & Prose -- lured both by a sense of having been remiss and Adrian Tomine's coincidental appearance there. I felt unnaturally hip among the young 20-somethings that lined the reading space in folding chairs. Unnaturally hip because, you know, I wasn't. Comforting fact: there were several other Asians in the room. Discomforting fact: most were, sad to say, still more hip than I was.

Tomine began his slide show by addressing the whole "Asian-American" issue; that is, how he's been criticized for not writing (drawing?) the Asian-American experience. With any interview, he counted down the minutes until the topic was brought up. And while it's an annoying question -- and in certain ways unfair -- I still can't say that it's not valid. Asian-American artists shouldn't necessarily have to be cultural ambassadors, but then we run the risk of being represented by Arthur Golden.

The other hot topic: graphic novels... the new literature? The critical drumbeat of late has been that graphic novels can and should be accorded the same weight as "serious" literature. Certain graphic novels bear this out: Maus, Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on the Earth. But it's still a young genre -- both in terms of how long it's been around, as well as its demographic.

That said, Shortcomings is nonetheless a great read. And if it doesn't conform to the expectations of "Asian-American" literature (read specifically: the immigrant narrative), all the better. If I had any drawing ability, would I be doing graphic novels? Possibly. But I'm content to leave that in the hands of Adrian Tomine.

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