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By Adrian Tomine. Published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Softcover, 104 pages, B&W, 2007

Ben Tanaka has problems. In addition to being rampantly critical, sarcastic, and insensitive, his long-term relationship is awash in turmoil. His girlfriend, Miko Hayashi, suspects that Ben has a wandering eye, and more to the point, it's wandering in the direction of white women. This accusation (and its various implications) becomes the subject of heated, spiralling debate, setting in motion a story that pits California against New York, devotion against desire, and trust against truth.

By confusing their personal problems with political ones, Ben and Miko are strangely alone together and oddly alike, even as they fly apart. Being human, all too human, they fail to see that what unites them is their shared hypocrisies, their double standards. This gray zone between the personal and the political is a minefield that Tomine navigates boldly and nimbly. The charged, volatile dialogues that result are unlike anything in Tomine's previous work or, for that matter, comics in general. But Shortcomings is no mere polemic. Any issues that are raised stand on equal footing with expertly-crafted plot turns, subtle characterization, and irreverent humor, all drawn in Tomine's heart-breakingly evocative style. What Tomine ultimately offers is more provocation than pronouncement—a brutal, funny, and insightful reflection of human shortcomings.

Shortcomings was serialized in Tomine's iconic comic book series Optic Nerve (issues 9-11) and was excerpted in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern 13.

Praise for Shortcomings

One of the most gifted graphic novelists of our time.


One of the most masterful cartoonists of his generation, 32-year-old Adrian Tomine's [Shortcomings] centers on Asian-American protagonist Ben Tanaka, a lonely, socially constricted man, longing to make a connection and spinning in the purgatory between youth and adulthood... equal parts poignant, hilarious, and sad.

Village Voice

Perfect... Shortcomings is Tomine's richest and most rewarding read, packed with the most human characters he has ever created.

The Star Tribune

Graphic novels are rarely this disquieting and subtle.

The Boston Globe

It's a fair bet that Shortcomings will only further secure [Tomine's] title as the 'most masterful' and 'most critically-acclaimed' comics writer of his generation.

The Believer

Graphic literature's most gifted realist... Fiercely honest.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

His panels are exceptionally easy to read, combining the precision of line drawings with the gentle pacing of art-house film. The facial expressions and gestures are subtle, and they stand out against the storefronts of Berkeley and Brooklyn, N.Y., which he renders with uncanny fidelity, down to the old light fixtures of Chinese restaurants that have since been remodeled. His dialogue is sharp and true whether he’s portraying a squabble in a dive bar or the negotiations that precede a kiss.


Tomine's genius is to strip his medium of every possible type of grandiosity or indulgence, and the result is that life itself floods in. His mise-en-scene rivals Eric Rohmer's in its gentle precision, and his mastery of narrative time suggests Alice Munro. Shortcomings, as near as he'd get to a grand statement, is as deceptively relaxed and perfect as a comic book gets.

Jonathan Lethem, author of Fortress of Solitude

Exploring race, adulthood, and ambition with exquisitely tuned humor and poignancy, Shortcomings is a graphic narrative as piercingly realistic as any prose fiction. Grade: A

Entertainment Weekly

[Shortcomings’] stark, unfussy artwork allows plenty of room for exploring the story's complex themes of racial and sexual politics, gender roles, artistic ambition and distance vs. intimacy.

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