Graphic Novel (Guest) Review 335/365: Killing and Dying

Please keep up with all of my old Graphic Novel Reviews here as I quest for 365 in 365 days! Or search #365GN on Twitter.

Hey, all! I have some cool things coming your way in June, so make sure that you are checking back every day. I appreciate you for reading.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be featuring a couple amazing reviews from my friend and fellow Comic Book Teacher Adam Ebert!  I hope you enjoy!

Title: Killing and Dying  

Author(s): Adrian Tomine

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly (2015)

Age Rating: 18+

As a hungry educator, I’m always looking for new pieces of content to bring into my curriculum.  It’s a process that I would, in no way, deem an easy one.  Internet searches can only give a brief snapshot of a text, and information about a book can be scarce if you’re not reading the actual thing.

In my endeavors to find graphic novels and other media for both my own enjoyment and potential use in my classroom, I stumbled upon Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying.  At first, I was only familiar with the cartoonist as I’ve used several of his New Yorker covers for activities in my classroom.  New Yorker covers are great resources to use for discussions and feature work from artists like Tomine, Chris Ware, and Daniel Clowes among others.

But, as I flipped through the book, I found the work featured in this anthology to be incredibly varied in color, design, and content.  Some of the stories are told in black and white with panels that are filled to the brim, while others are presented in colors with upwards of 20 sparse panels on each page.  The craft present on these pages communicates that Tomine is a master of the comics medium and is able to switch up his style as necessary based on the story he’s telling.  The cartoonist has been publishing his own work in Optic Nerve for over twenty years, and his experiences show through in the work on display here.

Of the six stories featured in Killing and Dying, it is the three stories that are told in color that gravitated with me the most.  The color palette Tomine utilizes in each of these narratives added something to the tone, setting, and plot in such a way that was masterful and enriching.  Amber Sweet tells the story of a young girl who looks like a famous porn star and the ramifications that come with our visual identity in contemporary times.  Translated, from the Japanese tells the story of a family emigrating to America, utilizing a visual style that is prose-like in its construction. 

The title story is perhaps the best story of the bunch and one where Tomine truly shines.  Killing and Dying tells the story of a father who stands in his own way as he attempts to connect with his teenage daughter as tragedy surrounds their family.  Tomine tells this story in the aforementioned 20-panel page structure, and this allows the story to have a particular pace as well as incorporate captions about what kind of laughter is filling the room in a comedy club.  The story is sad, frustrating, and beautiful in a way that is nuanced.

That being said, all of the stories featured in Killing and Dying are told in a distinct, but affecting way.  Adrian Tomine’s work here reminds me of filmmakers like Noah Baumbach and Wilt Stillman and authors like Philip Roth and Alice Munro.  To lump the cartoonist in with artists of this ilk is not hyperbole, but merely a true measure of the craft apparent in Killing and Dying.

In regards to finally bringing this book into my curriculum, Amber Sweet and Killing and Dying are off the table based on content, language, and other material that is not necessarily appropriate.  Translated, from the Japanese is beautiful in its craft and prose and perhaps, most worthy of being read and looked at in a classroom.  The other stories featured within are also very mature and would have a better place in an undergraduate course than in a high school English classroom such as my own.  That’s simply part of the process as educators search for new and engaging material to bring in front of our students…

-I want to thank Adam Ebert so much for this thoughtful review, and look forward to another from him tomorrow.  Please give  him a follow of Twitter @MrAtomAbort

Happy reading!


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