OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Our VIP is the author of the acclaimed comic series "Optic Nerve," and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, McSweeney's and Best American Comics. His latest book, "Killing And Dying," is a darkly funny expiration of mortality, parenthood and stand-up comedy. Please welcome Adrian Tomine.
EISENBERG: Now, many of us know your work because we have this stack of magazines on our bedside table which intimidates us at times called the New Yorker, and so many of those covers are illustrated by you. Is there a cover that you've done that when it went out, you thought, this is the one I really want my name on? Like, I'm so - you know, this nails me on my aesthetic and my talent.
ADRIAN TOMINE: You know, the first one I did was just the most monumental for me just because it was the first one and it was - I think at the time I was dating - I wasn't married to my wife yet. And it was a good way to impress her parents, you know.
TOMINE: Because prior to that, I was just a guy who did adult or alternative comic books. And then suddenly to be, like, a New Yorker cover artist was a different thing.
EISENBERG: They were like, oh, this is paying off.
EISENBERG: Did they understand what you did?
TOMINE: With the New Yorker they did.
EISENBERG: They did, but before that...
TOMINE: I don't know.
TOMINE: We don't discuss it that much, no.
EISENBERG: Right, that's the kind of thing where they're just kind of like, oh yeah, you work in comics, and then it just gets quiet.
TOMINE: Yeah, which is fine for me.
EISENBERG: And what was the first cover? What was the illustration?
TOMINE: It was called "Missed Connection," and it was - it's the image that is most bootlegged by street vendors around Times Square of, like, a woman reading a book on the subway and seeing a guy on a passing car reading the same book.
EISENBERG: And they can't get to each other.
TOMINE: They can't.
EISENBERG: That is so New York.
EISENBERG: You are both close to everyone and completely alienated at the same time.
EISENBERG: And when you see that at the vendors in Times Square, do you ever go up to them and go, hey, that's my stuff there?
TOMINE: No (laughter).
EISENBERG: No, you just let Elmo give you a hug and you move on.
TOMINE: Yeah, that's right.
EISENBERG: Very good.
TOMINE: That's my weekend routine actually.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) So your new collection, "Killing And Dying," deal with questions one faces as a parent.
EISENBERG: And why not just go autobiographical?
TOMINE: Because I wanted to have a story where a teenage kid was a bad stand-up comedian, and I don't have a teenage kid yet.
EISENBERG: Well, fingers crossed that that happens to one of your children, by the way.
EISENBERG: If one of your children became a stand-up comic or a comics writer...
EISENBERG: ...Would you be OK with that?
TOMINE: I think that's a lot of what the story's about is about being a supportive parent even if you're not always a fan of what that endeavor is or if you're not sure - maybe you're not even in a position to really judge how good your kid is at that endeavor. I mean, and it's also thinking about how weird it was for my parents to have a kid in their house doing these kind of personal comic books. You know, like, I started publishing my comic while I was still living with my parents.
EISENBERG: Right, because you were 16 years old. Right, so there you are, and you're selling these story
TOMINE: Right, and they didn't see it. They just knew that I was in my room working on something. And then I would go get them printed up and put them in comic book stores. And then maybe they would hear about it or something. But yeah, so I just was sort of thinking what a strange experience that must've been for them. And, you know, they weren't comic book fans themselves. So, you know, they were probably like, is he embarrassing himself? I'm not sure - maybe.
EISENBERG: Did they ever read one? Did they ask to read one?
TOMINE: Yeah, they read it.
EISENBERG: And what did they say?
TOMINE: Good job.
EISENBERG: Aw (ph), see? But one thing I love is that you have a P.O. Box where you invite people to send you fan mail and hate mail. And you then print them on the back page of your "Optic Nerve" issues
EISENBERG: Why do that?
TOMINE: At this point, very good friends, other cartoonists, have told me that that's their favorite part of the comic book at this point, and so...
EISENBERG: It's reading the fan mail?
TOMINE: So I never want to let them down now. And, you know, the thing is, I started out doing that, you know, years ago. And then when email and the Internet came along, I never publish an email address. I just stuck with this P.O. Box address. And with each year, it's sort of narrowed down the playing field of, like, who's going to actually write to me because it's, like - you know, there's prisoners...
TOMINE: ...And then there's, maybe I'd say five or 10 very devoted letter writers who are still sending things to that P.O. Box.
EISENBERG: Because you're asking them for a large effort.
TOMINE: I am. Well, it's almost like an assignment for publication because if they write a really good one, it's going to end up in the comic.
EISENBERG: There's one that I really enjoyed from the back that I would just like to throw out. It's just a short one, but I just love that someone took the time to write this.
(Reading) I just read "Optic Nerve" number 13, and I'm struck by one thing - that is the protracted gloominess of it all. Before you sit down to write your next story, why not dust off the best of Wham!? If you work near a computer, you can go to YouTube and play one of their music videos. Just a glimpse of George Michael's dimples would do anyone a world of good.
TOMINE: Yeah. I didn't print it, but they actually included a link to the Wham! playlist on YouTube. But, you know, I enjoy getting any kind of mail. Like, for me, like, the more interesting a letter is I just get more excited and I know that this going to be great for my friends who are looking forward to reading that in my comic.
EISENBERG: Do you ever respond to them?
TOMINE: Sometimes I do.
TOMINE: Yeah, I feel like if people are going to go to the effort to get a stamp and, you know, put it on an envelope that, you know, it's a big effort these days. So I often write back.
EISENBERG: By hand.
TOMINE: Yeah. Sometimes it's opening up a can of worms that I shouldn't have.
EISENBERG: Right, because then you get another letter, don't you?
TOMINE: Oh yeah, it's - we're penpals now.
EISENBERG: Exactly. You've opened up. All right, Adrian, I have to ask you - would you be up for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
EISENBERG: All right, thank you very much for agreeing to that. A big hand for Adrian Tomine.
EISENBERG: So this doesn't happen too often, but Adrian has actually hand selected his opponent. He's brought a friend. So let's welcome, from the band Yo La Tengo, James McNew.
EISENBERG: James, thanks so much for joining us.
JAMES MCNEW: Thanks for having me.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) How long have you been friends?
MCNEW: My goodness - that must have been 1992 or 93.
TOMINE: Yeah, something like that.
EISENBERG: OK, that's real.
MCNEW: But I knew - like, your "Tower Pulse" work and the digest-sized "Optic Nerves" and - oh yeah, we go back. Small days.
EISENBERG: And so he was a fan of yours. And when you started - you knew his work. And did you know him before he was, like, hey, I'm this person where you're like, I know your work.
MCNEW: Possibly - it might have been a tie.
EISENBERG: Nice, nice - and so there was a mutual meeting of the minds.
MCNEW: You can call it that.
TOMINE: Yes, you could call it that.
EISENBERG: All right - weird.
MCNEW: Judge me.
EISENBERG: I don't judge anything. I think that is fantastic. Adrian is the inspiration for this game because you designed the cover for Yo La Tenga's "Murdering The Classics," that album. Was that a fun collaboration?
MCNEW: Absolutely, yeah.
MCNEW: They're clapping for the artwork.
TOMINE: Yeah, thank you.
EISENBERG: I know this is the radio - it's interesting to talk about artwork on radio. But they are clapping for the artwork. And then they're also clapping for what is actually on the album.
MCNEW: No, no - the album's really pretty unlistenable. But the artwork's fantastic.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) So this game is dedicated to classic album covers. What we are going to try to do is to make art radio-friendly by describing famous illustrated album covers. And we will describe them to you, and you have to ring in and just name the album. And if you need a hint, we will also give you the artist if you're struggling. You will be competing against each other. All right, so here you go - I'm going to try to described this. This is - most of it's crotch. It's a pair of jeans that you see with...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
MCNEW: "Sticky Fingers."
EISENBERG: Nice - with a zipper that opened. Yeah, that was exciting. OK.
MCNEW: I'm ready.
EISENBERG: All right.
JONATHAN COULTON: OK, here is one. There are a bunch of cartoons on the cover of this album. There is a circular cartoon in the center.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
TOMINE: "Cheap Thrills."
COULTON: Adrian - yes, that's right. "Cheap Thrills."
EISENBERG: How'd you do that?
TOMINE: He described it well.
COULTON: Right? A bunch of cartoons, I said. He was like, oh yeah, I know that one.
EISENBERG: That's great. All right, on the front cover of this, there's a very pretty girl - kind of looks like me. I would say it's an art deco style. She has a long, icicle earrings, black hair...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
EISENBERG: Yeah, "Rio."
MCNEW: You (expletive).
EISENBERG: Durand Durand - were you a fan of the Durand Durand?
TOMINE: No, I was actually embarrassed as soon as I rang in.
COULTON: Never give away your love for Durand Durand. That's rule number one.
OK, there is a red sky. There is a graveyard. There is a very muscular gentleman on a motorcycle. There's some kind of demon - winged demon - chasing him. He is rocketing up from the...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
COULTON: Thank God. James, yes.
MCNEW: "Bat Out Of Hell"
COULTON: "Bat Out Of Hell," yes, that's right.
COULTON: That's worse than "Rio."
EISENBERG: A different era of "Rio" with "Bat Out Of Hell."
COULTON: Yeah, it's all relative.
EISENBERG: OK, we did think you'd be that good at that, but that was incredible. Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our VIPs do?
ART CHUNG: It was actually a tie so...
CHUNG: ...We have a tiebreaker.
COULTON: Tiebreaker - uh oh.
CHUNG: Hands on your buzzers. Cartoonist Daniel Clowes, who drew the cover for the 2002 EP "Merry Christmas" from Yo La Tengo, is best known for what 1997 graphic novel?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
TOMINE: "Ghost World."
CHUNG: That's right, congratulations.
EISENBERG: You guys are so good, you both with ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes. I just want to let you know that.
EISENBERG: Thank you so much James McNew and our VIP Adrian Tomine.
EISENBERG: Coming up, we'll sing all about the great things you can find in a bottle. And we'll take a trip to the most literal mall in the world. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEEL GOOD INC")
GORILLAZ: (Singing) Don't stop, get it, get it. We are your captains in it. Steady, watch me navigate ahahahaha.
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