Monday, October 20, 2003

A Summer Blonde in the Fall... 

Well, I just read the Summer Blonde hardcover from Adrian Tomine (nice to have good libraries..), and was very impressed with it. It is something where I want to say I enjoyed it, and I think I did, but just that it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. One of those things where you feel a bit drained experiencing it.

A lot of times I will enjoy a normal down to earth kind of story. Often times it ends up being some sort of manga.. I'd like to believe that it isn't the fact that it is normal life somewhere ELSE that attracts me to the stories, but occasionally I wonder about it. I find myself almost having to go through an additional barrier to pick up an American comic dealing with real life. I've seen a collection of American Splendor stuff at the library and I still haven't convinced myself to pick it up yet. I flip through it and am just turned off by the whole style. But one day I'll actually start to read it and will probably get into it.. But this book has reassured me that I CAN like these books, even if it takes me a while to get around to reading them...

Anyway, to get back on track, there are four unrelated stories in the volume, Alter Ego, Summer Blonde, Hawaiian Getaway, and Bomb Scare.

The first involves a young writer who has had one bit hit and is now in a rut. He gets a postcard from a girl he used to idolize in highschool, and goes off to find her in hopes of getting material for a story and tying up loose ends. It is interesting how it plays out, but is probably my least favorite story, the character being one I can't identify with much. The kind of person that uses his problems as a way of manipulating others...

The next story Summer Blonde is the title of the book and is well done. It involves an isolated timid man who is going to a psychologist and can't seem to connect to people. He is attracted to an attractive blonde woman working at a local store and ends up half-stalking her in an attempt to talk to her and help her out with her problems. While he intends no malice, it does end up causing problems in her life. Some memorable characters in this one, especially Carlo, the attractive musician who gets bored with a woman after having sex with her 5 times and somewhat repulsed after 10.

Hawaiian Vacation I'd say is definitely my favorite of the bunch. It involves a woman lonely introverted woman who gets fired from her phone job at a catalog store, and eventually ends up doing hostile prank calls on people using a payphone near her home. I'd say she has the same kind of personality as me, introverted and tending toward depression but not unable to interact with other people. The gradual falling apart of her life is portrayed in a realistic way, and a lot of scenes ring true, like being unable to fully enjoy a party with a lot of people (even though she knows them from work), and ending up staring out from a balcony.

What cinched it for me, though, was the very last page of that story, involving a memory of her childhood. It wouldn't really be a spoiler to talk about it, but still I think the way he shows it is worth seeing on your own. It conjures up a feeling which I'm not sure most people really experience. A sense of masochism and pain mixed with a sort of wistful, almost romantic, nostalgia. I can't help feeling like that one page sums up more of my life than just about anything else I've seen. I don't know if I should be happy or scared by that, but I'm sure I'll buy the book some day because of that story...

(It also gets some bonus points for having an asian-american lead character whose ethnicity isn't the main focus of the story. It isn't something that is ignored, but rather is just another facet of her life...)

I liked the fourth story, but for very different reasons. It involves an unpopular and repressed type kid (one seemingly younger than his peers) who is best friends with an outsider type, with both of them being falsely accused of being gay. In parallel, it deals with a popular girl (dating one of the jocks who taunts them) who has an unfortunate event, bringing her and the boy together. What I like about this story is how realistically the growth of these characters are portrayed. Just because the situations change doesn't mean that everyone suddenly becomes someone else entirely.

In too many stories out there, you see something happens to someone and they have the Scrooge effect of doing a 180 in personality. In reality, even when something drastic happens, most people change in much more subtle ways, which is what is shown here... The ending is quite touching, and I'm glad that the book ended on this particular story.

When I first glanced at the artwork in the book, it seemed like the people were going to be very stiff, but I was wrong. The style works very well for these stories, and he does a good job of breathing life and emotions into these characters, while still portraying their loneliness. I also like how he can show that people can be attractive without being earth-shattering beauties. The artwork is very clear to make out, using screentones for shading, and unfancy box layouts.

So, I definitely recommend you check this book out. You're likely to get something worthwhile out of it, especially if you're a somewhat offbeat person like me. =)

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