Real life is scary.

There is disappointment, loss, estrangement and death around every corner but this is the darkness that brings the good times into sharp relief.

Though this is not quite the feeling you get when reading stories written/drawn by Adrian Tomine. This collection of short stories from Tomine is so real that sometimes it is just too painful to read. Killing and Dying is six short stories of ordinary people trying to cope with the challenges of contemporary living and falling short of either truly succeeding or failing, simply being.

It begins with A Brief History of the Artform known as “Hortisculpture” – a deceptively light-hearted tale about a common gardener (Harold) who tries to sell the world his artistic concept Hortisculpture without much success. Told in a sequence of four panel pseudo daily comic strips, Tomine is expressing his own frustrations about being a comic book artist and exploring the conflict that is experienced by one. Yes, after a while, you just cannot laugh anymore as it hits too close to the bone.

The rest of the stories are more upfront about the vagaries of life’s experiences – Amber Sweet is about a girl who gets mistaken for a porn star,  Go Owls details an unlikely relationship, Translated from the Japanese is a sombre examination of a post break-up scenario and Intruders is a tribute to the late great gekiga sensei Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

And yes the eponymous story, Killing and Dying. Tomine utilises the device of comedy (where comedians need to ‘kill’ or ‘die’) to consider the manner in which a father and daughter handle the death of a wife/mother.

There are hardly any lessons to be learnt here, much of the resolutions are uncertain and unsatisfactory – but isn’t that very much like real life as well? Although it would be rather more illuminating if Tomine could stop being quite so morose, at least once in a while?

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