With Killing and Dying, Adrian Tomine’s latest compilation of graphic novel vignettes, the author continues to push the limits of the medium with eclectic stories about the human experience that are alternately poignant, darkly humorous and relatable.

Part of the “Optic Nerve” series that Tomine first began self-publishing as a teenager, Killing and Dying continues what has become a tangible evolution of the artist’s work and style. Almost evenly split between words and pictures, the graphic novel has a distinctive literary sensibility, and yet retains the strong visual pull that has fueled his successful career.

Placing seemingly normal individuals in improbable situations, Tomine explores themes including identity, love, loss, and family through the prism of a cynical worldview counterbalanced by moments of humor and levity. A certain helplessness tends to pervade the struggles of the protagonists, and yet through some expedient storytelling, the author still manages to imbue some optimism. In a word, the stories of Killing and Dying might be described as quirky, but not at all in a diminutive sense.

“A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture’” follows a father determined to establish a new art form. In “Amber Sweet,” a young woman grapples with the consequences of bearing strong physical resemblance to a popular internet porn star. “Go Owls” centers on the unlikely relationship between two strangers who meet at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. “Translated, from the Japanese,” beautifully conveys the emotional nuances of returning home. “Killing and Dying,” the titular story, focuses on a father and daughter struggling to continue in the aftermath of a tragedy. While “Intruders” deals with the difficulty in moving on after the conclusion of a relationship.

Collectively the stories epitomize Tomine’s style, and yet the book also shows off his versatility in both illustration and exposition. A treat for both longtime fans and those just getting introduced to the graphic novelist, Killing and Dying is a journey worth embarking on.

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