I stopped reading Adrian Tomine around issue four or five of his Optic Nerve series, as his storytelling had gone from oppressively self-serious to downright pretentious. And so, picking up his new graphic novellette, Scenes From an Impending Marriage (out today from Drawn and Quarterly), I was happy to learn that over the course of the last decade he had lightened up: not only is the book illustrated in a simpler, looser cartoon style (strongly evoking Charles Schulz and Bill Keane), but it’s full of good humor and self-deprecation.
An autobiographical account of Tomine and his then-fiance’s marriage preparations, the book is structured as tiny “chapters” covering typical aspects of wedding planning: “Invitation,” “D.J.,” “Registering,” etc. Each builds casually to a modest punch line—such as, after weeks of painstaking work on the invitations, they are carelessly discarded by friends within seconds!—and are split up by single-panel gags about dance lessons or buying a necktie. (Lest the clearly privileged Tomine, who regularly illustrates New Yorker covers, come off as self-absorbed, a few of the stories juxtapose their “suffering” with the real suffering of starving AIDS patients.) Like the Daniel Clowes of late (in books like Ice Haven and Wilson), Tomine borrows the perishing Sunday-strip‘s storytelling and aesthetic styles, crafting something like a Lockhorns prequel, if that embattled couple had lived in contemporary Brooklyn (i.e., had been more in love and much less prone to withering, disdainful insult.)
In the last story, Tomine slips in a touch of the meta, signaling to the reader that the project was originally intended as the parting favor for wedding guests. Indeed, the copyright page notes that “some of this material originally appeared, in slightly different form, at the wedding of Sarah and Adrian.” As a result, the book is slight (and only 54 pages, and only six inches tall, and easily read in 15 minutes), and probably not of much interest to anyone who wouldn’t appreciate a chuckle at the cliched labors of wedding planning. (“Our parents want us to invite so many people!”) But the slightness works in Tomine’s favor: hopefully such lightheartedness won’t prove one-off, as it’d be a welcome tone for future graphic short stories.