Optic Nerve #8 (2001)
by Adrian Tomine

Optic Nerve is always beautiful, but I felt let down by #8, perhaps because it had been well over a year since #7, and that one had rocked my world. Though all the key elements were in place – long silences, emotionially piercing writing, and heartmelting artwork, this issue was the first ON where I felt the book may have run its course.

The single story is called "Bomb Scare," and follows a couple of ambiguously-defined relationships against the backdrop of high school circa Gulf War I. It may be that I was put off by the themes, in this one more unpleasant to face than usual, but mainly I got the feeling that Adrian Tomine was beating me over the head with meaning, and that's not like him.

The main character, a prototypically Tominian isolated nerd type, is casual friends with gothy gaywad Alex, which does neither of them any social favors in the grand scheme of all-poweful High School Rule. Scotty is torn between his honest friendship with the misfit and his buried desire to fit in and be "normal."

Meanwhile, Cammie is sociable and popular, mostly for her willingness to blow anyone who shows interest, and she's torn between her desire for legitimate accpetance and a deep self-loathing that pervades everything she does.

She and Scotty come together following a falling out between Scotty and Alex, the exact details of which are left unclear. Tomine is a true wizard at capturing the complicated emotions of these moments, usually in a single frame that says it all.

Though I found myself unsatisfied upon finishing "Bomb Scare," I can't say that wasn't the intent of the artist or the appropriate reaction to what is really a depiction of some deeply sad shit. I don't want to see the gay kid get picked on. I don't want to see a beautiful girl shit her pants. I don't want to see a thoughtful kid trapped inside his own brain, unable to move ahead.

Why? Because I am that gay kid, I am that beautiful girl, I am that thoughtful kid. Maybe it's that I don't like to stare into my deepest fears, my darkest truths. For "Bomb Scare" is hardly the work of an unsubtle hand.

Yet there was a quality to ON #8 that struck me as more contrived than Tomine's work ever is, like the author was imposing a statement instead of letting me reach what conclusion I might. It's in the hardballing treatment of the gay character, perhaps – a bit PC for my tastes? Yet it was real … certainly I knew this kid, certainly I went to those parties.

I'm not even sure what I'm reviewing here, Optic Nerve #8 or my own tortured adolescence. In any event, it's not a place I like to hang out. If this issue failed me, it's only because I, indeed, have failed.

Review by Cokehead