English: I get the sense from reading your Amy stories, especially the first one, that a lot of what she says is coming from you. Are the things she says all beliefs of yours, or imagined?
Tomine: No, and that's not just true for that character. But most of the fictional characters I've had are somehow splinter personalities I've had, and I'll sort of be voicing my opinions through their mouths. I think that, it's not hard for the reader to discern which are the sympathetic characters and which are not, and sort of see which... I mean, I'm always surprised by how people are very clear on what is my own voice, coming through. They seem to pick up on it pretty easily.
English: She's your only re-accruing fictional character. What's it like working on a character like that?
Tomine: I don't know...it was so long ago I don't even really remember what the thought process was. I think at that point it wasn't even very much of a character. There was no real continuity between those stories, and the character didn't really develop that much. I sort of feel like what I'm doing now with these one issue long stories is sort of more of a development of the character then those little things were. But yeah, I do like the idea, of something like the whole run of Love and Rockets, where Jamie really developed Maggie and Hopeys character. Same with Ghost World. That kind of thing does appeal to me, I just don't know if I'm up to that level yet.
English: Probably the biggest difference between the mini comic days, and the current Optic Nerve, is the fact that you used to feature yourself in your stories, and do obvious auto-bio comics, but now, you mask yourself behind other characters. Why did you do this?
Tomine: Well, I mean it's just to give myself a little bit more creative freedom. I guess there's a way where I could do things... like Seth did in "It's a Good Life if you don't Weaken", where he draws himself as the main characters but it's essentially a fictional story. I like that idea, and if you think about it, the way his character behaves in that story is pretty neutral. He goes on this little quest, and he doesn't really [do much]. I think a lot of the character stuff I'm trying to do, shows the bad side of human nature. Cruelty to other people or something like that. I start to get too self-conscious if I draw myself in that role. It sort of fries me up to put in other characters.
English: I like your story "Patriotism is Alive and Kicking". Why do you and other comic creators not do more social commentary? That's something that can be, and has been done well in comics, but today, aside from Joe Sacco, you hardly see it.
Tomine: Right. I think Sacco's doing a good job with it. Well, I feel like in terms of political commentary, I'm just too much of a middle brow, in that things I am knowledgeable about or could be emphatic about, are, in this day and age of political correctness, almost trite. Like "Boy, aren't skin heads mean when they beat up people?" Y'know? It just seems to obvious.
English: Preaching to the choir.
Tomine: Right. Exactly. And then the more difficult issues, I just feel like I'm really not authoritative enough to stake out any claim on. If someone told me to do a story about Bosnia, like the way Joe Sacco did, I would not know what to do. I am still not sure about all the different things going on in Palestine. But he goes in there and goes to those towns and interviews people, and so he has some authority, and I just don't feel like I have that.
English: I think the bulk of your mini comics we're pretty fun, while your current work really isn't. What's it like doing serious stuff?
Tomine: Well, there's more of an immediate positive response to the things I did purely to get laughs. It really goes back to this desire to tell more substantive stories or just to tell stories for that matter. And I think when your really stretching for those stories... I mean all those stories were autobiographical, but I had to really simplify characters, and really kinda manipulate it, just to make it funny. It's like "The cook is completely insane, and I'm just this innocent victim at her mercy." And, it's satisfying to me when someone tells me they laughed at something I did, but it just means simplifying things to such a level. I don't think it's worth it for me.
English: How much harder is it to express an idea in one page, like with "Train I Ride", as opposed to your current 32 page stories?
Tomine: I think there just two different things. I think it's like the difference between like writing a novel and writing like a short poem. They both have their different merits. The poem has to be more elliptical, and suggest a lot more stuff. Where as in a novel, you can be more explicit and actually develop things concretely. I don't think one is neccasirlily better then the other, but I'm more interested right now in development.
Tomine: Yeah... well the guy on the phone, who called me initially was a producer, so he was more knowledgeable then she was. Yeah I mean, I think in general the media might have sort of a patronizing tolerance of comics, or something like that. Even when they do get it right, it doesn't seem to do that much.
English: For stories like "Smoke" and "Dine and Dash" where does the inspiration come from that?
Tomine: I mean, like everything, it has to come from my own experience, in some capacity. It's just a matter of sort of extrapolating. Let's see, with "Smoke", I think that had several things going on with it. One, was a declining relationship I was having with a girlfriend, and sort of feeling guilty of my treatment with her. And also, the story all came together... because I must have had some experience of putting a letter in the mailbox and having second thoughts or something. And then just saying, "What would someone do, if they were really determined to get rid of that letter?" And same with "Dine and Dash". I was working as a waiter at the time, and there was sort of a similar guy who would come into the restaurant everyday. It's just a thing where your imagination takes it a few steps further.
----------------Go to Tomine Interview Part 3