UC Berkeley alum Tomine starry-eyed in ‘Drawings’

Drawn and Quarterly/Courtesy

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The story of the New Yorker, the renowned arts and culture magazine, is an interesting one in and of itself, but it helps to start with Rea Irvin. Rea Irvin was the magazine’s art editor at its inception. Transplanted to the Big Apple from foggy San Francisco in 1906, Irvin drew the smartly dressed dandy, Eustace Tilley, for the magazine’s first cover in 1925. He could hardly have known the artistic legacy he was leaving for graphic artists and magazines in general. In fact, he expected the magazine to fold.

Eighty-seven years later, the magazine publishes 47 issues a year. Its covers and illustrations have garnered a reputation all their own. It is in this legacy that we view Adrian Tomine, who for the last decade has graced the cover of the magazine with his clean, sketchlike illustrations. “New York Drawings,” released Oct. 2, is Tomine’s new hardcover collection of drawings depicting the city that, much as it did for Irvin in 1906, adopted Tomine’s aesthetic in 2004 and hasn’t let go since.

Like Irvin, Tomine is a California native, transitioning from an awkward adolescence spent drawing in Sacramento to an education in English at UC Berkeley. “New York Drawings” makes it clear that this is not the art of a native New Yorker. The Cal alum takes a wide-eyed, bespectacled view of the New York metropolis. He is awed in the way only a non-native could be. In the opening comic, Tomine finds himself at the New Yorker holiday party and is incredulous not only about his invitation to said party but about his invitation to the giant fete that is NYC. The introvert stumbles about pretending to look for the coat check, holes up in a restroom, breaks the fourth wall and looks outside a window, a thought bubble alerting us to his amazement: “Wow … look at the view. God, that’s beautiful.”

This sense of admiration is evident in Tomine’s depiction of the city. The book, organized chronologically from Tomine’s very first New Yorker illustration — “Luscious Jackson,” a photograph-sized graphic from a 1999 issue featuring three jamming female musicians — to his more current pieces, is an ode to the city that never sleeps. The collected New Yorker drawings are a gem, usually illustrations accompanying reviews within the magazine. But the real treasures in “New York Drawings” are the sketches Tomine produced upon arriving in the city.

These sketches are placed at the very heart of the volume, an arrangement that cannot be coincidental. You get the sense that Tomine sketched his surroundings in order to feel at home in his new city. There are drawings of his fellow subway travelers with accompanying annotations providing context. One girl sitting on a subway has the note “Didn’t move a muscle for four stops.” A picture of a white-haired rabbi includes a side note: “His mouth moved as if he was chewing.” Tomine is a master of observing the fine details even while sketching in two dimensions, his flat coloring devoid of shadows. He is endlessly astute in his humorous representations of characters from all backgrounds, as in “International Incident,” a New Yorker cover from Dec. 26, 2005, showing people of different ethnicities waiting for delayed flights at an airport, all at the mercy of Tomine’s relentless snow.

In drawing New York, Tomine offers vignettes that represent the rich variety of personalities — characters in the “gag” comic series of life itself — that populate the sprawling metropolis. Rea Irvin would’ve been proud.

Event details:
What: Slideshow and signing
When: Friday, Oct. 12
Where: Pegasus Books in Berkeley

Contact Natalie at [email protected]