In a career filled with brilliant vignettes, Shortcomings is Adrian Tomine’s first attempt at doing something longer and perhaps more substantial with his talents. Ben Tanaka and Miko Hayashi’s relationship is falling apart, due in no small part to Ben’s fetish for white girls. As Miko moves to New York, both of them reevaluate what they’re doing in life and explore the possibility of life apart. It’s the story of a couple uncertain about where they are now that school is long gone and they and their friends are entering their thirties.
The book’s art depicts another step in Tomine’s increasingly sparse and minimalist storytelling. No thought bubbles, narration or action lines litter the pages, which play out instead like a series of photographs. Shortcomings places stress on the emotions told through posture and facial expressions rather than background details, and the book’s strongest point is the realism of characters movement that is used to underline both what’s being said and what’s being left unsaid by the characters.
Shortcomings‘ length allows Tomine even more fully realized characters than his earlier works, which was always one of his strengths to begin with. However, even more so than before the characters are almost completely unlikeable. Tomine’s never been sentimental, but it’s difficult to understand why these are the people he wanted to spend so much of his life writing and drawing about. Reading the book is like watching a car crash for 100 pages and its end seems like a foregone conclusion from the beginning, with only the character arc up in the air until the last page.
What results from this mixture of Tomine’s craft and the unpleasant process of spending time with the work’s miserable characters is both awe and distaste. While it’s certainly a book worth reading, it’s not something that people will be warmly recommending or returning to nostalgically in the future.