Graphic Novel Review Series – Pt. 3, Shortcomings

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This is the third installment in my series of Graphic Novel Reviews, in which I will publish a review each Tuesday until I run out of books. This is based, in part, on a class that I am currently taking about the graphic novel. Read the next one here (to come next week) or go to last week’s review.

Shortcomings was originally published in parts in Adrien Tomine’s comic series, Optic Nerve, which is put out by Drawn and Quarterly Press. The story tells a story of Asian American identity, sexuality, and young adulthood in a contemporary setting.

This is both an analysis as well as a review; I have tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but they are still present in the following paragraphs.

The relationship of Ben and Miko is falling apart, and their lives are falling with it. Miko accuses Ben of fetishizing white women, and points to his collection of pornographic movies nearly exclusively featuring white, blonde actresses as proof. He blows her off, though he does not seem to be interested in his own (Japanese) girlfriend, sexually. Ben even jokes about having a secret nod between Asian men who see each other with white women. Despite this, he later criticizes a relationship of a white man and an Asian woman, accusing the man of being a pedophile. The irony is lost on him. This is a problem that arises from the assumptions many make of Asian individuals: that Asian women are sexual and doting while Asian men are impotent and feminine. If Ben could divorce himself from his own obvious insecurities and begin to see the women in his life as individuals beyond their physicality, many of his problems would be solved.

Ben objectifies the all of the women in his life, and in particular, he thinks the white girls he dates are little more than accessories. When one woman visits his home, inviting him out to lunch, he immediately  goes to rip her shirt off. He jokes that he has to put up with listening to his girlfriends in order to sleep with them. He doesn’t seem to have the patience to put the effort into relationships for them to last. Ben is a sarcastic, self-pitying, stagnant, and solipsistic man who resists change. This is evident by his job that he complains about, but does nothing to find another.

This story is one of the newer narratives that have come about thanks to shifting values of the millennial generations; the characters are still finding themselves and grappling with existential crises. I see many of the characters not as stunted but as more free from traditional responsibilities one associates with adulthood, like children or office jobs. I personally like this view of adulthood that is not tied to heavily to career but instead with interests and aspirations.

Though Ben is the protagonist, he is the least likable character. This type of anti-hero is akin to those you would see on Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, and it is done well in this novel. It challenges readers to see some of their own darker sides in Ben, leading to some soul-searching.

The art style is very simple which reflects its raw subject matter. Everything in Shortcomings is without pretense or accessory, but very human. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys dark stories about failing romance, human folly, or anti-heroes.

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