Adrian Tomine's New York

By Peggy Roalf   Monday September 17, 2012

Adrian Tomine came to New York, Brooklyn, to be precise, from Berkeley, California, in 2004. Right away, he got a steady gig doing illustrations for The New Yorker. In the autobiographical strip that introduces his new book, New York Drawings (Design&Quarterly), he says that he finds it hard to believe that he works for the only magazine he’s ever subscribed to. In the next frame, he says, “And how great it was that when I met Sara’s [his girlfriend] parents for the first time? When they asked what I did, I just said, ‘I work for The New Yorker.’” Next: “Their reaction was a hell of a lot better than when I used to tell girlfriends’ parents that I drew ‘adult graphic novels.’”

One of the delights of New York Drawings is Tomine’s notes about the art, which also includes work he’s done for other magazines. About the cover art for the book (below left) he writes, “This was my first [New Yorker] cover and it’s still probably my best-known drawing. I’m sure it never would have happened without the tireless coaxing and immeasurable guidance of [art editor] Francoise Mouley. In spite of her repeated invitations to submit cover ideas, I kept putting it off, probably out of intimidation or just a general lack of proactivity. Eventually, she made it an assignment: ‘Submit ideas for this specific issue, the theme is books, and here’s the deadline.’


Left to right: New Yorker cover, November 8, 2004; New Yorker cover, June 9 & 16, 2008; New Yorker cover, July 26, 2010.

“She was very involved with the early, conceptual stage of the process offering advice, suggestions, and criticism of each sketch I submitted. After re-working and finally abandoning at least ten different ideas, I finally came upon this one, and it was like, Francoise’s work was done. She left me to draw the finished piece without any further input, and that’s the artwork that ended up on the cover.

"The main thing that Francoise stressed throughout the process was that the piece should contain at least a kernel of a story—not necessarily a ‘gag,’ but something beyond just a pretty picture—and I think it’s that quality that made this drawing resonate with people.”

About the June 9 & 16, 2008 issue [also about books] he writes, “I’ve been privy to quite a few interpretations of my New Yorker covers, and this one might’ve elicited the broadest range. I got letters or emails from at least five different bookstore owners—from cities across the country—who were convinced that it was their shop I had depicted. And no, they didn’t mean it in a metaphorical or symbolic context…they were absolutely sure I had stood outside their shop and drawn it. (For the record it was based on an apartment building and bookstore on Bergen St. in Brooklyn.) I received some pretty heartfelt letters from struggling independent booksellers who saw the image as a stinging indictment of the ‘consumer trend’ toward online book-buying. Most surprisingly, I heard through the grapevine that a certain online retailer had purchased ten framed copies of the cover to hang in their offices.”

About July 26, 2010: "I submitted a very rough sketch of this idea, drawn without any kind of reference, and Francoise accepted it with the caveat that New Yorker readers were sticklers for detail and we’d have to make sure the background was accurate. A fair amout of research and discussion ensued, taking into consideration everything from the directional flow of traffic to the visibility of the city skyline….Shortly after this cover was published, The New Yorker received this letter: Your July 26, 2010 cover showing a young girl going on vacation looking out the back window not safely strapped in is the height of irresponsibility. Should there be an accident, the mother will not be smiling. (name withheld)/Toronto, Ontario.”

You can meet Adrien Tomine this Thursday, September 20 at powerHouse Arena at the opening reception for an exhibition running through September 23rd, and in conversation that night with Jordan Awan of The New Yorker, 7-9 pm; booksigning to follow. 37 Main Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY. Drinks will be served. RSVP appreciated.

On Sunday, September 23, 2 pm, Tomine will take part in a panel discussion with Jaime Hernandez, Carla Spee McNeil, Gabrielle Bell, moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos, at the Brooklyn Book Festival/Design&Quarterly. St. Francis Auditorium, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, NY. Information.

The tour continues: New York MCNALLY-JACKSON Tuesday October 2; Providence AS 220 with ADA BOOKS Wednesday October 3; Cambridge HARVARD Thursday October 4; Berkeley PEGASUS Friday October 12; San Francisco APE Saturday October13; Los Angeles SKYLIGHT Sunday October 14; Brooklyn BCGF Bklyn Saturday November 10; Montreal D+Q Sunday November 11; Toronto BEGUILING Monday November 13.