An (way too personal)
By Víctor Parkas
—I’ve got a solution for creative block: Adrian Tomine!
We’re in one of the classrooms of a film school and the sentence is pronounced by our assistant professor. One of my colleagues has reached a dead point in which a week before starting to shoot he’s unable to write a satisfactory script. It’s thus when the professor, with a rehearsed movement, takes out of his folder as many photocopies as students are in the class; he distributes them. They belong to comic book Pink Frosting, whose protagonist ends up, in the scarcely two pages the story takes, with his head crushed against the kerb. Its author is Adrian Tomine.
“Our dark side is one of my obsessions,” Tomine himself tells me five years after this university anecdote took place. “The wretched attitudes we adopt in our day to day life are very useful as raw material for my work, but I’m even more interested in trying to understand why we behave like that. However, I don’t think my comics show an unfairly negative vision of human beings, but a realistic one, more like.”
Pink Frosting, our teacher says, is the story my colleague will have to adapt in his first short-film practice. The exercise, taking as a base this academic briefing, is, obviously, turning Tomine’s story into something filmic, into the sketch of a script that can be translated into audiovisual language.
“What film director I’d choose to adapt my work? That’s as if you’d asked me in high school what girl I would like to date: something too embarrassing to answer,” Tomine says, but later on he declares himself a fan of Yasujiro Ozu, Michael Haneke and Mike Leigh. “I also like series like Louie or the British version of The Office, but I don’t know if I’d like to work in that kind of industry, professionally. To me, someone who’s worked with the same editor since I was a teenager, it would be disheartening not being able to enjoy the same creative freedom I have when I draw comics.”
The student who’s been asked to turn Pink Frosting into a short-film doesn’t really connect with the material, and this entails a new creative block. Trying to offer him other stories to draw inspiration from, we lend him Summer Blonde, the first compilation of stories drawn by the same author, who has always been revered by mainstream media.
“I might have more readers and more media visibility now than when I published my own stories, but to me the process of creation of a comic book is still the same: working everyday, completely alone, in a corner of my room. Being revered in a world such as this, so different from what happens in the world of film or music, allows you to keep on being a lonesome freak that never moves away from his desk,” the author says when he’s asked about his leap from the underground to the shelves showing his prize-winning graphic novels.
Not even Summer Blond is capable of inspiring –to this director-to-be, at least– a script with enough substance. So we think that, if Tomine is good enough for our teacher, so might be other popes of the American independent comic world such as Daniel Clowes or Charles Burns. We try to get the aspiring director to draw some ideas from Eightball; from El Borbah; from Peter Bagge stories.
“Peter Bagge was one of the first people to support me when I was starting in the comic world,” Tomine says about hater prophet and creator of Hate, with whom he worked in the hilarious Shamrock Squid. “He’s not only a good friend, but one of my favourite cartoonists since he published Wacky World. I’m still surprised today by the amount and variety of material he’s able to produce!”
It isn’t negotiable: the tutor takes out the whip and he has to start shooting Pink Frosting whether he likes it or not. Our colleague finds the –minimalist, suggestive, openly hostile– original story quite hollow, but he’s running out of time: he needs to have a definitive script over which to plan the imminent shooting. Finally, he decides using Pink Frosting only as the climax inside a longer screenplay on failed fatherhood, pastry chefs who become good Samaritans and other arty turns that could link this film student with the main character in A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture.
“Each time I sit at my drawing desk I feel like the main character in A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture,” Tomine confesses about his comic book on a misunderstood artist and his quixotic crusade to connect with an audience that doesn’t exist. “When it came out, people thought it was about me imagining what would have happened should I’ve failed as a cartoon artist. They thought it was a speculative story about my life in an alternative universe, but to me it’s totally biographic,” he reveals. “It was the first comic book I wrote after my first daughter was born. Becoming a father makes you more self-conscious in every sense.”
Pink Frosting, re-christened for its snazzy film debut as Sacher Torte, was shot, presented to the class, judged not too harshly by a professor who knew it was merely the first exercise of the course, and lately forgotten by its marginal –due to the size of our classroom– viewers. Of course, the next thing its author did was posting it on the Internet.
“Generally, I think the cultural impact that the Internet has had in our lives has been terrible. I’d love to be able to raise my kids in a pre-iPhone age. Since it’s impossible to lock the genie inside the bottle again, I try to concentrate my energy in not criticising the Internet, but thinking how I can learn to live with it, with smartphones and tablets, to try and not become as addicted to them as the rest of the world.” Few of Tomine’s stories have to do with Internet culture, but Amber Sweet completely does: in this story, the main character finds out, thanks to new technologies, that the harassment she’s being a victim of is due to her resemblance to a famous porn star. “It’s interesting the way you read that story as my fear of becoming famous, but yes, I’m terrified by fame.”
“When I was young, I dreamed about being recognised; it’s the typical fantasy of someone who spends his life isolated from the rest of the world. However, when I lived in my own flesh the most insignificant version of being famous (like, for example, being recognised in the street) I was absolutely horrified. I sincerely believe that people fighting to become famous, people struggling to get massive scale public recognition are mentally ill.”
“I can’t believe someone would choose to sacrifice his/her intimacy in exchange for feeding his/her ego.”
I look at the answers that Tomine sent to me and I think about how to write an article with them. His last work published in Spain, Intruders, appeared too many weeks ago, so it can’t be considered a novelty to devote a text to. Should I write his profile? How pretentious at this stage! I’ve found an approach I like, but I don’t know up to what point it might be considered invasive or arrogant towards all the people involved… I don’t know. I guess this is what one could call creative block.
“Although through stories such as Triumph and Tragedy you might think that I am usually ashamed of the people closest to me, it’s actually the opposite: I’m constantly worried in case one of my works might embarrass them,” Adrian points out. “I’ve left many stories inside a drawer for fear the people I know would consider them too intrusive. But no, I’ve never refrained from publishing a story because I considered it too personal.”
Pink Frosting is included in Sleepwalk and Other Stories
Shamrock Squid is included in Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff
A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture is included in Intruders
Amber Sweet is included in Intruders
Triumph and Tragedy is included in Intruders