On Comics: Inside the 'Mane' Vein

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By Matthew Shaer

Adrian Tomine, occasional New Yorker cover artist and “Optic Nerve” star, made headlines late last year with “Shortcomings,” a book the NYT called “an investigation into matters of the heart.” Mostly correct: Tomine does mine the sacred and intimate. But he does it with a glancing, feather-light touch. In that way, he’s not unlike, say, David Sedaris, an author with an ear for pathos and for one-liners and for the ways in which the two can best fit together.

Tomine fans, take note: the young artist Michael LaRiccia’s has a new book called “The Death of Black Mane and Feared Self,” which owes much to “Shortcomings” but also pioneers a fresh aesthetic style, equal parts scrawl and emotional sprawl.

Writes LaRiccia, in the introduction, remembering the terms of a recent family tragedy: The experience “was an unrelenting teacher, educating me on life’s one guarantee: nothing; we are not entitled to anything. This way of thinking may appear to be pessimistic, but I would argue if you recognize you are not entitled to anything, you will appreciate the gifts you are given even more.”

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The original 'Black Mane'

“Black Mane” begins with a fantasy tale, set somewhere – presumably – in the age of Vikings and monsters. Over that, LaRiccia layers the mostly autobiographical story of a young man struggling to make enough money to support his young wife, who is home sick, weathering a ferocious stomach disease. The young man, Mike, is far from content with his job, or his bosses; still, he can’t see a way out. “What the hell will we do?” he wonders, puttering around town in his beat-up car.

Answers are not immediately forthcoming, but like in “Shortcomings,” for LaRiccia, the journey – full of angst, sadness, and unexpected joy – becomes all.

Buy "Death of Black Mane and the Feared Self" here.


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