The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, Adrian Tomine:

Doug Johnstone is swept up in a graphic novel memoir by an old favourite

I have to admit that I’m not usually one for reading memoirs. Even if the life of the author has been a crazy romp from one minute to the next, there still often seems to be something formulaic about the way events are portrayed, a conventional structure that detracts from the content.

Not so with this week’s two books, which are both very different from the usual cut-and-paste celebrity memoir template, and also very different from each other.

First up we have The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (Faber, £16.99) by American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine. I’ve raved about Tomine’s work in these pages before, for me he’s the outstanding graphic novelist of his generation, and his Killing and Dying story collection is one of my favourite books of all time.

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist is a graphic memoir that, in keeping with all Tomine’s work, is brutally honest and painfully hilarious. Tomine writes about Gen X angst and isolation like no one else, and here he brings his acute insight and minimalist style to his own life.

The book is effectively a series of snapshots from his life, opening with him getting bullied at a new school in Fresno in 1982 for being a comics geek, through his life as an aspiring cartoonist, finishing up with a finale that is equal parts funny, profound and heartbreaking.

for anyone who thinks that a writer’s life is in any way glamorous or exciting, Tomine absolutely bursts that bubble

Throughout the book, Tomine the character comes across as painfully self-aware and riddled with constant anxiety as we spend time with him at various underwhelming bookshop events, comic cons and other miscellaneous encounters with random members of the public. For anyone who thinks that a writer’s life is in any way glamorous or exciting, he absolutely bursts that bubble, and some of his cringeworthy encounters with fans (or not, as is often the case) will make the reader want to curl up and die in a corner on his behalf. 

The writer constantly misjudges situations and second guesses his own motivations, his angst-ridden thought processes and accidental gaffs making for Tomine’s trademark mix of laugh out loud comedy and sinking desperation. 

But as the book reaches its climax, it seems Tomine is softening towards a sweet moment of commonality. After feeling chest pains, he winds up in hospital fearing a heart attack. But just as he sets up a touchy-feely ending, he can’t help but pull the rug away from the reader’s expectations, puncturing once more his own self-importance to leave the reader feeling dazed and confused, but also thoroughly entertained.

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A similar sense of self-deprecating comedy runs through our second memoir, Ramble Book (HarperCollins, £14.99) by Adam Buxton. The British comedian is one of the country’s favourite podcasters, where he interviews other comedians and artists in a laconic and droll fashion. This memoir is only available as an audiobook at the moment, read by Buxton himself, and it follows the same idiosyncratic style as his podcast, full of asides and tangents that are as least as entertaining as his main story.

The memoir concentrates on Buxton’s rather posh childhood at Westminster School, as well as his troubled relationship with his father, who thought Buxton’s pop-culture comedy was a disappointment. But the comedian is well aware of his privilege, and repeatedly undercuts his cultural and societal musings with a hilarious turn of phrase or put down. Guaranteed to make you smile.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, Adrian Tomine (Faber, £16.99)

Ramble Book, Adam Buxton (HarperCollins, £14.99)