Adrian Tomine’s drawings are the sort that make you secretly wonder if you might have served as a subject. The longtime New Yorker artist captures life in the city with a remarkably nuanced voice, drawing it as it is: lonely and funny in equal measure, often at the same time.
This week, Tomine released his seventh book, an anthology of his New Yorker drawings and a collection of New York-centric sketches called New York Drawings. There are plenty of crowd favorites–his International Incident cover, for example, which shows a string of airport seats occupied by stranded travelers of a dozen different religions and ethnicities, each reading a book.
But there are also a number of drawings no one has ever seen. A series of watercolor sketches shows Tomine examining his fellow subway riders, imagining their stories. A Japanese man in a snapback and headphones sits with his eyes closed (“He bowed when someone bumped into him,” Tomine notes). A woman rolls her blue eyes, squished between two i-bankers (“making subtle facial reactions as one Wall St. guy explains to another his plan for ‘scoring’ with his ex-girlfriend”).
Tomine has a knack for picking out moments that capture the kinetic energy of a story that’s about to begin. In one drawing, a man boarding a train pauses as a woman struggles to carry her stroller up the stairs (the title: Be Kind). He captures immense loneliness, too, but never really reaches the point of melancholy. As a California native, he’s described himself as torn between the two coasts, which might work to his advantage. New York Drawings isn’t a love letter to the city so much as an attempt to diagram what social behaviors make it unique.
Since he published his first drawing in the New Yorker over a decade ago, Tomine has emerged as a kind of diplomat for comics in pop culture. But in a 2011 interview in The Rumpus, Tomine says he has reservations about the medium moving into the mainstream. “For someone like me who’s always tried to make a living at it, it’s been great, I’m very grateful for it. But at the same time, it’s not a subculture-y thing anymore,” he says. It’s tough not to hear a description of New York embedded in the sentence that follows:
And with this sort of increased visibility, there’s more money going around in the industry, and it changes a lot, in terms of who gets into the business as a creator, who sticks with it, and who gets pushed out. And I do think it’s sort of too bad that what once was a safe haven for truly eccentric, outsider artists is no longer that thing.