Scenes from an Impending Marriage (2011)
Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly
Planning a wedding brings upon a unique and notoriously irresistible brand of insanity, as has been well-documented by Hollywood wedding comedies over the years, Bridesmaids being a recent example. When graphic novelist Adrian Tomine (known for his New Yorker covers and his long-running series Optic Nerve) and his fiancé Sarah Brennan started finalising their wedding plans, they found that they were turning into “those people”; the shouting, fuming, couples they had scoffed at all their lives. That was when Tomine (nudged by Brennan) decided to document the process to form a wedding memento of sorts.
Scenes from an Impending Marriage is very, very different from the sombre, tragicomic style of Optic Nerve. The art, the paneling and the punchlines all evoke memories of the classic American newspaper funnies, like Beetle Bailey or Heathcliff. Tomine’s signature brand of realism and close attention to facial expression and background details creeps in at a couple of places. But for the most part, this little book is all about the artist letting his hair down and concentrating on slapstick. Imagine Alan Moore writing an episode of Dharma and Greg.
Tomine is Japanese American while Brennan is Irish American: as expected, this is one of the things that cause friction, especially when they are figuring out the seating plans. Brennan reckons that Tomine is a bit too dependent upon the cultural crutch that his Japanese identity provides him: she points out that his dentist, his accountant, his barber and so on were all Japanese. Tomine, ever the control freak, doesn’t get the hint. The chapter about cultural differences ends with a standalone cartoon that shows him in a state of panic while an irate Brennan listens to him saying, “I’m just saying it wouldn’t hurt to create a buffer zone between the quiet, sober, West Coast Asians and the loud, drunken, East Coast Irish!”
The couple’s incorrigible politeness also leads to a few sticky situations, like when they have to turn down a “DJ Buttercream” because his music is too loud. At one point, the two hide their faces behind books when they run into him on the subway; this may or may not be a reference to Tomine’s most famous New Yorker cover Missed Connection, where a boy and a girl see each other reading the same book in subway cars headed in opposite directions.
Of course, Tomine’s knack of capturing revelatory silences never quite leaves him. At the end of a long, tiring day, during which Tomine and Brenna acknowledge that they have been trapped in a “black hole of nuptial narcissism”, they share a moment of silence and then decide to volunteer at a dinner hosted by an AIDS charity. Another beautiful moment from the epilogue shows the couple silently wolfing down “an array of greasy food”: their first meal as a married couple. Scenes from an Impending Marriage may be Tomine Lite, but it is a very, very funny book nevertheless, a reminder that at some point, all of us needs to start taking ourselves a little