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4.2 4
by Adrian Tomine

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Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine's first long-form graphic novel, is the story of Ben Tanaka, a confused, obsessive Japanese American male in his late twenties, and his cross-country search for contentment (or at least the perfect girl). Along the way, Tomine



Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine's first long-form graphic novel, is the story of Ben Tanaka, a confused, obsessive Japanese American male in his late twenties, and his cross-country search for contentment (or at least the perfect girl). Along the way, Tomine tackles modern culture, sexual mores, and racial politics with brutal honesty and lacerating, irreverent humor, while deftly bringing to life a cast of painfully real antihero characters. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Tomine has acquired a cultlike fan following and has earned status as one of the most widely acclaimed cartoonists of our time.

Shortcomings was serialized in Tomine's iconic comic book series Optic Nerve and was excerpted in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Adrian Tomine . . . may be the best prose writer of the bunch. His young people, falling in and out of relationships, paralyzed by shyness and self-consciousness, take on a certain dignity and individuality.” —Charles McGrath, The New York Times Magazine

“[Shortcomings] follows moody movie-theater owner Ben Tanaka, who struggles to hang on to his Asian girlfriend while secretly lusting after white ladies. He's sad and somewhat despicable, and yet Tomine, being the understated virtuoso he is, effortlessly spins him into a Gen-X hero.” —Entertainment Weekly

Jim Windolf
The author is an expert at hooking the reader without tricks or obvious effort, and you'll be tempted to buzz through Shortcomings in an hour. But you'll want to slow down to take in the detailed black-and-white panels that casually document the way we live now. Tomine has always been attracted to love gone wrong among the hesitant young men and women of the bourgeois-bohemian set, but he gets his subject across in the unsentimental style of an anthropologist's report. Unlike the more playful graphic novelists who influenced him, Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, David Boring) and the Hernandez brothers (Love and Rockets), Tomine isn't given to flights of surrealism, rude jests or grotesque images. He is a mild observer, an invisible reporter, a scientist of the heart. His drawing style is plain and exact. The dialogue appearing inside his cartoon balloons is pitch-perfect and succinct. He's daring in his restraint.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly


Reviewed byJunot Díaz

Tomine's lacerating falling-out-of-love story is an irresistible gem of a graphic novel.Shortcomingsis set primarily in an almost otherworldly San Francisco Bay Area; its antihero, Ben Tanaka, is not your average comic book protagonist: he's crabby, negative, self-absorbed, über-critical, slack-a-riffic and for someone who is strenuously "race-blind," has a pernicious hankering for whitegirls.

His girlfriend Miko (alas and tragically) is an Asian-American community activist of the moderate variety. Ben is the sort of cat who walks into a Korean wedding and says, "Man, look at all these Asians," while Miko programs Asian-American independent films and both are equally skilled in the underhanded art of "fighting without fighting." As you might imagine, their relationship is in full decay. In Tomine's apt hands, Tanaka's heartbreaking descent into awareness is reading as good as you'll find anywhere. What a relief to find such unprecious intelligent dynamic young people of color wrestling with real issues that they can neither escape nor hope completely to understand.

Tomine's no dummy: he keeps the "issues" secondary to his characters' messy humanity and gains incredible thematic resonance from this subordination. Tomine's dialogue is hilarious (he makes Seth Rogan seem a little forced), his secondary characters knockouts (Ben's Korean-American "only friend" Alice steals every scene she's in, and the Korean wedding they attend together as pretend-partners is a study in the even blending of tragedy and farce), and his dramatic instincts second-to-none.

Besides orchestrating agripping kick-ass story with people who feel like you've had the pleasure/misfortune of rooming with, Tomine does something far more valuable: almost incidentally and without visible effort (for such is the strength of a true artist) he explodes the tottering myth that love is blind and from its million phony fragments assembles a compelling meditation on the role of race in the romantic economy, dramatizing with evil clarity how we are both utterly blind and cannily hyperaware of the immense invisible power race exerts in shaping what we call "desire."

And that moment at the end when the whiteboy squares up against Ben, kung-fu style: I couldn't decide whether to fold over in laughter or to hug Ben or both. Tomine accomplishes in one panel of this graphic novel what so many writers have failed to do in entire books. In crisp spare lines, he captures in all its excruciating, disappointing absurdity a single moment and makes from it our world.(Oct.)

Junot Díaz's first novel,The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has just been published by Riverhead.

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up
Ben Tanaka is a Japanese American in his late 20s, living in Berkeley and working in a movie theater. His confusion and frustration with his girlfriend, Miko, are compounded when she moves to New York for a four-month internship at a film institute, leaving him to have some "time off" from their relationship. The women in his life now include his best friend, Alice, a Korean lesbian; a beautiful, white bisexual who chooses her ex-girlfriend over him; and a performance artist who delights in photographing her own urine and having sexually explicit musical stage shows, but finds kissing icky because of germs. When Ben goes to New York with Alice, he finds that Miko has hooked up with a photographer and isn't in the city for an internship at all. Tomine uses an understated drawing style that is simple yet effective, and fits well with characters who are intelligent, reflective, and honest. In addition to tackling modern relationships and racial politics, pop culture, art, and cinema are also discussed. Ben acts as an Everyman, standing in for all Americans of mixed ethnicity and the confusion that often surrounds a person divided between two worlds. The wordless final frames speak volumes for his quiet contemplation, and many readers will identify with his struggle.-Jennifer Waters, Red Deer Public Library, Alberta, Canada

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Drawn & Quarterly
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
7.06(w) x 9.06(h) x 0.79(d)

Meet the Author

Adrian Tomine is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and lives in Brooklyn, New York. His illustrations have appeared in myriad publications, including The New Yorker, Esquire, and Rolling Stone, and his stories have appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading and An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories.

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Shortcomings 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
P_Lin More than 1 year ago
Bold and brutally honest, Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings truly sets itself apart as an Asian American novel. The author's artwork is undeniably eye-catching; I was immediately struck by the simple sophistication of the cover art and was highly impressed by the liveliness and animation of each panel. Tomine's illustrations fully capture his characters' mental and emotional processes, making them more realistic and relatable to the reader. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how powerfully Shortcomings confronts the racial and cultural identity issues plaguing Asian American youth. The novel chronicles the many failed relationships of Ben Tanaka, a young Japanese-American whose cynical nature and struggles with internalized racism eventually alienate him from the people he cares about the most. Tomine's cutting dialogue and expressive illustrations work together to breathe life into each of the characters and unleash the conflicted Ben's inner turmoil. Shortcomings presents the issues of racism, self-hatred, and interracial romance in such a direct and honest manner that readers are forced to examine their own beliefs, values, and prejudices. Being able to somewhat relate to Ben and having struggled with similar cultural identity issues in the past, the novel allowed me to reflect upon my own experiences and how my attitudes towards my ethnic heritage have changed over time. The book brings to awareness the sensitive subjects of cultural assimilation and the Asian-Caucasian interracial dating disparity, catering to a young Asian American audience who will be able to understand and relate to these issues. Overall, however, Shortcomings is highly recommended to people of all different backgrounds as it will provoke insightful thought and dialogue regarding prevailing racial attitudes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book today and I couldn't put it down. I liked how he created his language. It made sense. The way he told a story without words, for a couple of panels, I felt the argument that was happening. It was a great book to see how someone of color, or a minority, would feel towards the majority race. Or rather the race that seems to permeate our nations magazines and television shows. I have felt like Ben somedays, looking at pale skin and loving it. The way he tells the story, and his girlfriend doing the same thing as him and he not liking it. Yeah i've done the same thing myself. Damn this american culture which doesn't show us that there is beautiful things wherever we go, so maybe now I sound like Ben more, but I really loved this comic book. It brought out emotions in me, a funny book bringing out emotions, what? But Tomine is a great comic book writer. I read another of his books a couple of years ago and gave it to this white girl I had a crush on. I doubt she ever read it, but I passed it along, hoping someone else in this world could get something out of it like I did. But I did enjoy this. Buy it and read it on a lazy afternoon, its better than going to the movies.