Whenever I go down to Another Dimension comics, I never know what to get. I have most of the popular graphic novels and lots of stuff by Drawn and Quarterly. I really have to work hard to find something I want that's new. It also seems whenever I'm in there, a particular superfan of Red Sonja is too, so I was half smiling to myself as his assessment of the new Red Sonja movie floated over the stacks. But I finally found something - Shortcomings
by Adrian Tomine. To mine reached a peak back in 2007 or 2008 with New York Drawings
and I always meant to check it out. But it wasn't really a graphic novel per se, but a collection of drawings. I picked Shortcomings instead.
The title refers to a dick joke in the first act of the book, but also comes to represent one of the characters. Ben Tanaka is never quite the person he wants to be. He's self-absorbed and defensive, constantly feeling others are attacking his opinions. Ben, his girlfriend Miko and his best lesbian friend Alice, are the three main characters and all unlikeable in some way. Ben neglects Miko emotionally, is constantly angry and extremely negative. Miko is less than honest with Ben about her feelings in their relationship. Disappointingly, Alice is shown as a gay stereotype, almost predatory, in her constant search of sex.
I can see where this book would be challenging for readers because the characters are so unlikeable, and they argue constantly. I wish I had read it when the book first came out because now it reads like Twitter drama. In some ways, Shortcomings
is a clever book because it's basically one big info dump on issues facing Asian Americans - multiracial relationships, self-hatred, identity, Asiaphiles and navigating representation in media. One favourite part of the book is when Ben poses as Alice's boyfriend at a wedding for the sake of her parents. Alice is Korean American and Ben is Japanese American - Ben wonders why he can't pass as Korean, but Alice assures him that her grandmother hasn't forgiven his "people" for WW2 atrocities and would not be fooled. Tomine never casts judgement on any of the above themes, he simply lets them be.
Unfortunately a huge shortcoming of Shortcomings
is that the story is not fully resolved in a satisfying way for me. Does Ben get over his anger issues or overcome any other personal flaws? Miko and Alice get endings, but not Ben. It's disappointing after committing to 108 pages of conflict and angst. But I can forgive Tomine because I love the simplicity of his style and talent for nuance and gesture. He really is a master with faces and knows when to let a panel speak for itself. I just wish he could have penned a few more pages for a more satisfying ending - and it certainly wouldn't have to be a happy one either.