The graphic novel, Shortcomings, by Adrian Tomine is based on the main character Ben Tanaka who is a thirty-year-old Asian American who is frustrated and angry most of the time. The story centers around Ben who is going through relationship problems with his long time girlfriend who then moves away for a job opportunity. Ben explores new options of women while still trying to find his own way through life while his now ex-girlfriend Miko Hayashi is working in New York. Ben’s friend Alice Kim pushes him along in the story while Ben meets two new women of interest, Autumn Phelps and Sasha Lenz, which neither of them work out. While constantly struggling with himself, Ben comes to learn of new information about his ex-girlfriend which then leads him to New York to stay with his friend Alice and her new girlfriend. The news turns out to be disappointing to Ben who then is still left struggling to find his place.
The artwork and illustration used in this novel is typical of what most graphic novels consist of. The characters and setting are semi- realistic and representational of real people and settings. It’s less of a cartoony effect and more so of a realistic style that has been simplified to its basic lines and elements. All of the panels are in black and white with no color in any of them. The lines are all very refined and neat looking in each panel. The media used to draw the illustrations seem to be ink. The also seems to be a lot of positive and negate space because of it all being in black and white.
I believe the author’s intention of writing this graphic novel was to bring in a character and story we can all somewhat relate to but putting in situations and characters that are not shown as much in media and culture today. The fact that almost all of the main characters are Asian American is a bit different since there aren’t a lot of books or any type of media mainly focused on them. Even the main character, Ben, goes against what most people would think of Asian American’s acting like. He’s always down on himself and takes it out on everyone else around him by starting arguments that serve no purpose. This makes it interesting to look into the life of someone else who is a different nationality and realize they have all the same problems everyone else does. The author also makes the intention of the book not having a happy ending, which could be so that it wasn’t the typical story where the main character gets what they want in the end and turns out happy. I really think the story in itself is satyrical in a way because of the apathetic character of Ben and the situations he’s put through that never turn out in his favor.
Strengths of the Novel
This book is much different from other books that I have read. I enjoyed the fact that it combines a lot of different minorities into the plot and characters. It makes it interesting to read about people and cultures that are sort of pushed under the rug most of the time. I think the biggest strength this book has is that the main character sticks to one persona and personality the whole time. He doesn’t change for anyone or anything. He stays loathing in his self pity through the whole book. I think that makes it stand out from other novels in that way. I also think the diverse amount of interesting characters in this book make it a strong story. All of them are odd people that usually go unnoticed in everyday life and it gives readers a chance to see that there are people like the ones in the book out there.
There aren’t too many weaknesses that I can point out about this book. The only thing I can complain about is not knowing what happens to the main character after the book is done with. It left me curious about what he did after everything that has happened to him. Does he get happier? Does he meet someone new? The end of it is too much of a cliff hanger. I think the author needs to write a sequel to Shortcomings explaining what Ben does after he goes back home. It should go into more detail about what happens to him now that all of his friends are living in New York now. That would be my only suggestion to the author.
I would recommend this graphic novel to anyone who hasn’t read one before. It was the first graphic novel I have ever read and I very much enjoyed it. It’s a good book for anyone who was skeptical about graphic novels or anyone who enjoys unique stories that are not like the rest of them. Although I would not suggest this book to anyone who is under a mature age level because of some sexual content and language. It is a fun read for people who like to see the different side of society and who enjoy reading about quirky characters with simple everyday issues that are put in a satyrical way. I think anyone in high school through their forties would enjoy this novel.
Adrian Tomine has written a few other graphic novels including Scenes from an Impending Marriage, Summer Blonde, Scrapbook, Sleepwalk, and 32 Stories: The complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics.
I would give this graphic novel a rating of 5/5 stars. I loved it.