On Monday, I started looking at Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying (2015), specifically the “Hortisculpture” and “Translated, from the Japanese.” Today, I want to continue looking at Tomine’s work by discussing “Killing and Dying,” a story that explore relationships and the ways that people try to cope with death. “Killing and Dyring,” like the previous two that I wrote about, see Tomine employing different visual structures to convey the narrative. For me, this is what makes the story engaging because the ways that Tomine illustrates it only adds to the overall themes contained within the narrative.
“Killing and Dying” focuses on the family relationships between a father, a mother, and their daughter. The daughter, who stutters when she speaks, wants to try her hand at stand up comedy. Her father fears that she will fail at this endeavor and that the audience, and others, will laugh at her. Her mother encourages her to sign up for a class. The conflicting feelings about the young girl’s dream frame the story.
The majority of the story, apart from a few sections, consists of twenty-panel pages. There are four panels per row and five rows per page. Within these small, symmetrical panels, Tomine typically depicts one, maybe two, and very rarely three, characters. This closeness allows us to zero in on specific characters, noticing their emotions. For example, six of the first eight panels focus on the father as he washes dishes. Laughter comes from off stage, and he turns his head towards the sound washes another dish then hears his wife ask, “Hey, honey! Did you hear that?”
When the daughter performs on stage, Tomine intersperses panels depicting the daughter on stage, with a brick wall behind her, with panels that just have words detailing the audience’s reactions. Instead of showing the audience, of which we are ultimately a part, we only get the audience’s response. One panel reads “(applause)” and another reads “(uproarious laughter)”. Through these moments, we become part of the narrative, not just observers.
Elsewhere in “Killing and Dying,” Tomine uses the gutter (the space between panels) to full advantage. Speaking with Sarah Chihaya, he talks about the passage of time in the various stories, what happens from one panel to the next. He tells Chihaya that “Killing and Dyring” “was written more through omission and through editing than anything else.” This omission and progression of time appears in the story in two distinct moments.
The first occurs when the mother and father enter the comedy club to see their daughter perform. To this point, we have seen the family in their home and in the car. We have see the father and mother together in bed and at the kitchen table. In every panel, the mother appears healthy. She sits on the couch watching television and listening to her daughter practice, she sits at the table in a bathrobe typing on the computer, she rides in a car, and she does other everyday activities.
The panel that shows the couple entering the venue, though, lets us know that the mother is sick. We see her with a bandanna on her head and a walking cane in her hand. The father helps her to her seat. This singular panel tells us that something more is going on than just the daughter’s aspirations. It tells us that the family has been dealing with the mother’s illness, and this realization adds to our understanding of the story. The mother offers support for her daughter, and during the performance, the father sees his daughter’s talent.
However, after the set, the mother and father learn that the teacher wrote all of the daughter’s material, and this fact infuriates the father. They eat dinner at The Cheescake Factory, and while there the father congratulates his daughter but then forcefully tells her to watch out for stealing intellectual property. The daughter, angry, gets up and walks outside. The mother follows, and all teh father can do is stand there and look out the window as the daughter cries into her mother’s arms.
The final panel of the scene shows the father, staring at the door of the restaurant, unable to go outside and be with his family. The next panel is empty, no border, no image, just a white space on the middle left hand panel of the page. Next, we see the father washing dishes again, this time only one, as he asks his daughter what she wants for dinner. Through their conversation during dinner, we find out that the mother has died. The empty panel signifies her death, leaving the father and the daughter with an empty space in their lives.
The father and daughter go through daily activities, and Tomine shows how the mother’s death has affected the father. The story ends with the daughter performing at a comedy club, and she tells the father that she doesn’t need help rehearsing and that the event is private. He sneaks into the club and sees her bomb her routine, the crowd (us)boos her and tells her to get off the stage.
The father leaves the set early and goes home. He takes and looks at a picture of his wife then begins to bang his head repeatedly into the wall as he blames her for their daughter’s poor set. Another blank panel appears, in the same spot. He passes out. The daughter enters, finds her father on the floor. She wakes him up, he asks her how the set went, and she lies and tells him it went great. He does not let her know that he saw her, he only tells her, “That’s great, honey. I’m so proud of you!”
Even though the daughter did not succeed in her latest set, the father realizes that he needs to support her. This is part of the legacy that his wife leaves him with. Her death amplifies the need for him to support and be there for their daughter, even when she fails. While the first empty panel signifies the mother’s death, the second empty panel signifies the father’s awakening, and ultimately the mother’s return through the father. It’s a cyclical move that even the first and last panels of the story, depicting the outside of the house at night, reinforce.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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