Sunday Page: AJ Dungo su Adrian Tomine

Every week on “Sunday Page” an author has to choose a single page from a comic book. It could be for sentimental reasons o for a particular technical achievement. The conversation could lose itself in the open water of the comic book world but it will always start with the question: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?».

This Sunday I’m out with AJ Dungo, an illustrator from Los Angeles who has worked with Nike, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bleacher Report, The Ringer. In 2019, he published his first graphic novel In Waves with Nobrow. In Waves is an autobiographical story in which Dungo details his love of surfing while also interweaving the tale of his late partner Kristen’s battle with cancer against the rise and friendship of surfing greats Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake.

Photo by AJ Dungo.

Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying is a collection of six short stories. It came out about 4 years ago and if you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy asap. The story in the book that shares the same name as the entire collection is a masterpiece. It has certain elements of storytelling completely dialed in; seamless pacing, compelling dialogue, convincingly human characters. What Tomine does across 21 pages of this story, full length movies struggle to do in a three-hour time span.

I chose this page because it is a master class for any cartoonist hoping to make meaningful work. For context, on the page prior to this one, the father and daughter in the story have had a heated exchange. This brings us to the page presented before you. The top half of the page is completely wordless, the viewer is witnessing what the father is witnessing behind a window; a heartfelt moment between a mother and child. Tomine’s posing of his characters and silent gestures speak volumes.

A missing panel begins the next line of panels in the narrative. The father has long disheveled hair and the daughter has a short pixie cut. Time has clearly passed and there is a glaring omission from the page. Once realized it is heartbreaking. Nothing more needs to be said. Something that is poetically unspoken throughout this story is the deterioration of the mother. In the beginning she is youthful, through the middle she has a haircut, towards the end she is wearing a bandana fashioned as a head covering and is using a walker.

I wonder: would this page still be effective with fewer panels? Like, could you maybe take out the third panel of the second row? Would you have used so many images?

I don’t think so. I wouldn’t change anything about this story to be honest. I think that third panel is essential, just as all the other panels are. It may appear that that panel and the one before it are the same but what you miss if you remove it is that her mother begins stroking her hair. This tender moment is prolonged for just the right amount of time in my opinion.

Do you remember when you first discovered this comic book (and, in general, Tomine’s works)?

This book was a highly anticipated release at the time. I also was in art school around this time and worked at my school library, so I must have seen it there first. I think I came across Adrian Tomine’s work when I first started working at the library. My friend also gave me an anthology of comics work by McSweeney’s and I saw a chapter of Shortcomings in it. I can’t be certain exactly when I discovered him but it had to be around this moment that I was in school.

Is there a lesson you learned from this page?

Adrian Tomine is one of my all-time favorites because of his ability to evoke such strong emotion from his readers through such seemingly simple means. From this page, I learned how silence can be louder and more poignant then the most dynamic and onomatopoeia-filled comic. What is said in a comic is just as important as what is not. Tomine gives the reader breathing room and space. He implicitly trusts them to figure out what is normally spoon fed to an audience. By the end, you zoom towards the conclusion that was so cleverly crafted all along by the author. To me, this page is the perfect example of masterful storytelling.