The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics
Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

Tomine’s history in creating comics is pretty much similar to the situation of thousands of today’s aspiring creators, and brings to mind the dozens of photocopied mini-comics being hawked during last December’s C3Con.

The first issue of Tomine’s Optic Nerve mini-comics, a collection of very very short vignettes, had a voluminous print run of twenty-five copies, staple-bound together with love, care, and foul-ups. This was over 10 years ago, just about when Image comics was beginning to create shockwaves throughout comicdom. The initial sales were very encouraging – he sold none – driving his teenage soul to create more Optic Nerve issues till word of his work spread across the alternative comics scene. By the seventh issue (supported by a Xeric grant no less), his sales had reached 6,000 copies.

A mere three years after unleashing Optic Nerve unto the world, comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly offered to publish further installments of Tomine's work, ending the comics’ “mini” status. 32 Stories is a compilation of Tomine’s work during those years with Xerox.

The tales in 32 Stories aren’t what you’d call traditional “proper stories.” A lot of them are slices of life, and some are even slices of slices, mostly told between one to four pages. It takes a different mental framework to pull this off and, in some cases, Tomine’s snippets of sequential art seem to fall flat, beginning and ending through pure streams of consciousness without so much as a purpose or point other than telling things as they are, akin to a personal journal. I’d caution those who expect conventional storytelling to recondition themselves before reading. It’s only in the latter half of the book that stories begin to convey messages and ideas more solidly. (“Sleep-Waste” and “Grind” are among my favorites.)

But this seems to be the whole point of 32 Stories, to document the dynamic evolution of an offbeat comics creator. Readers are given a best-seat view in witnessing how scratchy lines and haphazardly lettered pages transform into finer, more polished work. It’s even more amazing to realize that Tomine’s progress took place in just a few years.

The contents of 32 Stories serves as a great example of how hard work and the desire to evolve reaps rewards. One could say that these are Tomine’s battle scars, and he unabashedly shows them off. The cover price is steep, but those who still harbor dreams of making it big in the comics biz ought to check out this inspiring and eye-opening collection.


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