The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist is Adrian Tomine’s exquisitely realised graphic meditation on the pitfalls of pursuing an artistic life.
It doesn’t take much to be attracted to the idea of a life pursuing artistic excellence. And as Adrian Tomine recalls in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (Faber & Faber), it’s been his dream since he was a kid. A very awkward kid at that.
In his graphic memoir, Tomine proves that the harsh realities of actually being an artist are infinitely more relatable — and compelling — than an idealised notion of creative fulfilment. What’s more, it provides fertile ground for a bleak, yet curiously uplifting comedy.
By any stretch, Tomine has enjoyed a successful career as a cartoonist. He began his career as a teenager, his seminal Optic Nerve series has been published by Drawn & Quarterly since the mid-’90s, his work has featured on the cover of the New Yorker, to mention but a few of his achievements. But as is painfully observed in the book’s epigraph — a quote from multi-award-winning cartoonist Daniel Clowes — being famous in this field is, “…like being the most famous badminton player.”
Such is the tenor that threads the chronological episodes of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist together. As Tomine progresses from a childhood as an abject outsider, toward a flicker of recognition for his talents — the cruel, uncaring hand of fate is ready to slap him down.
Upon returning to Comic-Con — only a year after vowing never to return after being humiliated on his first visit — the delusion is strong in the young Tomine. In one frame: “...I like to think I’ve grown since then. I’m tougher…more resilient. But also more humble and self-aware.” Then, in the next, “Still…probably best to keep my name tag hidden. Don’t want to get mobbed…”
While on tour, he wants to be alone, while complaining of loneliness at the same time. He courts adoration, while simultaneously suffering from embarrassment. These situations highlight one of the book’s chiefest virtues: though the injustices inflicted on Tomine by others frustrate him, he’s also unafraid to turn the gaze inward, critiquing his own ego, self-delusions and contradictions.
The final act finds Tomine struggling to balance his career with his family responsibilities. This is where The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist finds its ultimate poignancy. Sure, many find themselves consumed by this intractable juggling act at one point or another in their lives. But viewed through Tomine’s impeccably honed comic lens, even this age-old conundrum takes on an elevated level of significance.
It’s this ingenuity — the distillation of life’s most stubborn quandaries down to a single frame, a perfectly rendered facial expression, a piquant juxtaposition of images — that makes the graphic novel such an enticing medium. “The only reason I got anywhere in the comics business is just that I was so obsessively, single-mindedly focused for so long.” Laments Tomine in a quiet moment. But without this hard-earned skill, this sacrifice, would it be possible to relay this message with such precision?
You don’t need to be a connoisseur of the form to derive pleasure from this memoir. The pathos that Tomine is able to put on the page is thoroughly relatable to anyone who’s had a dream — and at times — suffered for it.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist is out now via Faber & Faber.