DOUGLAS: I always like seeing comics by well-known cartoonists that aren’t intended for widespread publication, and Scenes from an Impending Marriage is more or less that: a little 56-page book whose original form was a party favor that Adrian Tomine drew for the guests at his wedding (back in 2007), about the process of planning the wedding itself. When I read it, I figured it was pretty much the same thing his guests would’ve gotten, maybe without some of the front-matter or the six pages that take place after the wedding. Turns out the minicomic version was 16 pages, so this one is significantly expanded.
In any case, it’s low-key, charming and nicely designed (I admire the Tiffany-blue shade of the covers). I could get grinchy about how it doesn’t have any particular insights into or gags about wedding planning that aren’t rather familiar, and it doesn’t tell us a lot about Tomine or his bride; on the other hand, it’s not fair to expect any of that from something he knocked out in a hurry for the guests at his damn wedding, you know? Considered as a famously meticulous, painstaking cartoonist getting a little loose and doing something for fun, it’s incredibly entertaining to look at. It’s Tomine working in a style that’s “adorable” with quotation marks around it, but it actually is pretty adorable. It’s interesting that Tomine gravitates toward a couple of formats: the three-tier, carefully-composed-miniatures technique that’s been his main comics mode since almost the beginning of Optic Nerve is the part I expected, but the pastiches of single-panel newspaper cartoons are a little out of the ordinary for him, and nicely done. I’d love to see Tomine doing more offhanded projects like this between his just-so illustrations and micro-measured comics.
Also, the bits involving their attempts to find competent wedding DJs who aren’t going to play Bob Seger–“DJ Buttercream”!–really are pretty funny.
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EVAN: I’ll admit to being a little let down by this at first, if only for the lightness. I felt that Shortcomings was such a watershed moment for Tomine, in terms of how mature and assured his work felt over an extended story. The last thing I was expecting was something that–structurally, at least–harkens back to Optic Nerve, as you say.
But the winning thing here is the amount of affection in the book. The fact that it originated as a wedding favor factors in, but there’s quite a lot of love in Scenes. Usually, Tomine’s characters are so disaffected and estranged from their emotions that they get stymied by them. Granted, the “characters” here are Tomine and his now-wife, and they’re real people. Still, I enjoyed how, even in their most annoyed and cranky moments, they’re focused on trying to creating something warm and inviting for people that they care about. I think that warmth made the looseness of the art, the layout experimentation and the gags feel more enjoyable, too.
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GRAEME: I’ll be the grinch for this one, then; while I agree that it’d be unrealistic to expect great insight in a hastily-produced wedding favor, I don’t think it makes me especially greedy to want something more for a book I’m paying ten dollars for, especially when there’s new material that wasn’t included in the original. And, like Douglas said, there’s nothing here that is particularly insightful – it feels like a high class comic version of a wedding speech, all cliched “Hey, planning a wedding is hard, amIriteguys?” humor done in admittedly stylish ways.
I’d be more forgiving, I think, if I felt the affection that Evan does, but the only place that I think Adrian and Sarah actually come over as genuine people as opposed to blank-slate characters acting out sitcom material is in the epilogue, post-ceremony; while everywhere else, they could’ve been anyone, the epilogue felt honest and resonant in a way that I’d really wanted the rest of the book to.
There are a lot of little things to like, here: Tomine’s art is never less than attractive, the size and design of the book makes it feel more weighty and more of an event than it would otherwise, but the content… Ehh. I wanted more; the goodwill that this would get in its original purpose doesn’t carry over, for me, when it gets turned into a commodity and part of a back catalog you expect people to pay for.