Five Questions with Illustrator and Cartoonist Adrian Tomine
Adrian Tomine is kind of a rock star in the graphic novel/comic book world. The Northern California-born illustrator and artist is probably best known for his emo comic book series Optic Nerve, which he first self-published as a teenager. The series was picked up in 1995 by the Canadian comic book publisher Drawn & Quarterly—home to Kate Beaton, Guy Delisle, among other artists—leading to a prolific partnership.
Tomine is in town tomorrow for a booksigning at Skylight Books for his latest release: New York Drawings. The hardcover volume is an homage to his adopted home, and contains a collection of his covers, comics, illustrations and sketches from The New Yorker and other illustrations inspired by the city.
We had a chance to ask Tomine about his work, his influences and what it was like scoring his first New Yorker cover.
LAist: What was it like getting your first New Yorker cover? I'm assuming it's a pretty big deal for an illustrator...Is there another cover that you'd like to get that even compares?
I drew my first cover five years ago, and to this day it still feels pretty unbelievable to me any time it happens. That logo and the bar of color along the left edge of the cover are iconic to me, and they're inextricably tied in my mind to some of my favorite illustrators from the past, like Peter Arno and Charles Addams. So it still seems very strange—almost wrong—to me when I see one of my own drawings juxtaposed with those design elements, and it's even stranger when I see that magazine out in the world. And I've said this before, but it was really helpful when I met my wife's parents for the first time. For some reason, it goes over much better when you say, "I work for The New Yorker" rather than "I draw adult graphic novels."
And with regards to other covers I'd like to illustrate, the sad truth is that there aren't a lot of magazines left that use illustrations on their covers. Photography and type design really dominate that field, for the most part these days. If there was a Yo Gabba Gabba magazine, that might be something I'd have to do, just to impress my daughter.
LAist: How does your approach to illustrating for The New Yorker differ from taking on an Optic Nerve drawing?
I think of myself as having two different jobs: cartooning and illustration. When I'm working on my comics, I have no editorial input, no deadlines, and no restrictions. I also try to put more of an emphasis on the writing and the content than on each individual drawing. I want them to look nice, of course, but they're really in service of the story, and need to be legible more than anything else. When I'm working on an illustration, I actually view it as more of a collaboration between me and the art director. There's criticisms, suggestions, and changes. There's always a deadline, and it's usually tighter than I'd like. And especially with something like a New Yorker cover, I really allow myself to try to draw as well as possible, lavishing a lot more attention on that single image than I would on a panel in my comic.
LAist: I read that your influences include Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez...what attracts you to their work? Who/what are your other influences
I've often said that studying the work of Dan and Jaime—and then getting to know them personally—was like my equivalent of art school. I basically owe my whole career to those guys, in a lot of ways. I could go on and on about what I like about their work, but it makes more sense for people to just check it out themselves, if they haven't already. There's some cartoonists that I love, but I know that their work isn't really everyone's cup of tea. But I've never shown Dan or Jaime's work to anyone and had them not immediately see why it's so important to me.
As far as other influences, especially in regards to this new book, I should mention some of the great New Yorker illustrators that I've loved over the years. I already talked about Arno and Addams, but I'd also mention Ludwig Bemelmans, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Syd Hoff, Helen Hokinson, William Steig, and Saul Steinberg, just to name of few off the top of my head. Of the present-day artists, I'm always knocked out any time Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, or Richard McGuire do a cover. Actually, there's just too many to mention. I can't think of any other publication that has such an amazing track-record.
LAist: Were you ever a fan of traditional comic books from DC, Marvel, etc?
Of course! I first got interested in comics because of the superhero comics I bought from the corner store when I was a kid. And I loved everything: Marvel, DC, Archie, Harvey, Mad, etc. I was not at all discriminating. As long as it was in that language of comics, I wanted it.
LAist: You're originally from Sacramento/Northern California and now are based in NYC. Have you spent much time in LA? Are there any places (landmarks, watering holes, hikes) here that are go-to spots for you?
I've spent some time in LA, but not really as a tourist. I usually come to visit friends, or in the case of this week, I'm just making a quick stop on a book tour. So more than anything else, I think I'm most familiar with all the great comics and book stores of LA. Maybe some day I'll bring my whole family out here and finally check out the La Brea Tar Pits or something.
Tomine signs New York drawings tomorrow (Sunday, Oct 14) at 5 pm at Skylight Books.