Optic Nerve #9 (2004)
by Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine publishes Optic Nerve at an absolute snail's pace, especially relative to the by-and-large hackwork of the rest of the comics world, but it's almost invariably worth the wait. ON is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel compared to, like, Gotham Central.

Tomine's brutally honest and perfectly crafted stories sustain a haiku wisdom for their duration, moving forward, certainly, yet also emotionally suspended like a testicle in Jell-O. Wait, I meant a grape in Jell-O … those always look like testicles to me when I see them in Jell-O.

Optic Nerve is so good that it's commonplace for Tomine's readers to actually ration their reading so as not to consume everything at once. With a superhero book, and even most indie comics, you can get another fix next month. With ON, you never know when you might be able to score some more, and even with self-discipline you're bound to be left in a state of deep withdrawal.

Optic Nerve #9 comes along nearly two years after #8, which was the only letdown of an issue I've experienced with this title. That one seemed unusually heavy-handed, and simply less "good" than what came before. Perhaps I'd grown to expect an ever-multiplying increase in quality, as every issue managed to reach even more complete greatness, when you'd thought it couldn't get any better. So of course, I was excited to see a new Optic Nerve suddenly show up, but I was afraid that another letdown would ratify the decline of something extremely pure and good.

Fortunately, this one returns to the slow, subtle, difficult beauty of ON's run up to #7 (for a few issues, Tomine created true works of art … a rare thing that the comics world needs more of). It begins a three-part story tracing a self-loathing Asian-American guy as he is confronted with the murky ambiguities of a slow, miserable, righteous breakup and the possibility of something new.

The writing is superb – heartbreaking, real, and unflinching. Tomine is probably the best dialogue writer in comics, and the simply-stated artwork conveys even more emotion than his words. As usual, his guys are detestable but "gettable," unforgiveable but absolutely true to life. And his girls are the same broken birds you fall in love with from afar at coffeeshops and record stores: unattainably beautiful, paralyzingly fragile, and utterly, tragically human.

He's doing for hipster geeks what "Sex & the City" did for party girls … but minus the weak attempts to give this lifestyle an imposed context, moral, or meaning. These characters are so trapped that even making changes doesn't change anything for them. It's a sometimes bleak view of life that Tomine offers, one that always confirms my worst fears about how people are, and how I am. Through all the sadness, though, comes a portrait of humanity that is as beautiful and perfect a thing as anyone's ever captured in their personal art.

Does that sound way too grandiose for a comic? Perhaps your typical disposable X-Men bullshit. But Optic Nerve exists in – at the top of – a very thin tier of comics that show what this artform is capable of, and that is of being literature. Of edifying, entertaining, commenting, showing, revealing, like any of your favorite "real books."

And he even says in the introduction that we can expect #10 sooner rather than later! I'll try to keep my anticipation in check, though, in case it turns out to be another two years. It's like the time I went to Central America for a semester and refused to use the toilet, each day thinking that surely soon I'd be able to find an acceptable receptacle. When I finally did take a shit, upon returning home to my parents' house, I not only stopped up the plumbling with nearly 40 pounds of superdense poo, but actually managed to shut down the town's water filtration plant for 10 days.

Review by Gardyloo Gully