If it is true that “to err is human,” then “Shortcomings” by Adrian Tomine is one of the most human graphic novels that I have encountered in a good long while.
Populated by a cast of delightfully flawed characters, “Shortcomings” explores just that–the ways in which we fall short. Ben Tanaka is insecure, angry, depressed and lonely, which causes him to drive away the women who would try to love him. Struggling with internalized (as well as external) racism, Ben flounders in his romantic relationships and questionable preference for white women.
“Shortcomings” offers an intelligent and non-prescriptivist discussion of interracial dating, which is seamlessly integrated into the narrative. As Ben’s Japanese ex-girlfriend begins dating a man whom Ben perceives to be white, he asks his friend Alice’s new girlfriend, “Come on. You know there’s something creepy about a big white guy who’s horny for little, skinny Asian girls. I mean, what do you think THAT’S about?” This begins a conversation about the flip side of the question: what does it mean that Ben has a distinct preference for white women?
This is not a story that tries to force a message down your throat and make you choke on it. “Shortcomings” tries to create something thought-provoking and ultimately captures sentiments of truth about human relationships, and it does so wonderfully. The dialogue is very real, which in turn, makes the characters very real as well. As the characters become more apparent, as the lives of Ben and his lesbian friend unfold, it’s clear why the book is titled “Shortcomings.”
My only gripe about the book is it being really short. But that does not stop it from being a great read, one that you will want to peruse from start to finish. It attacks you over this 30-minute range with emotions and feelings until it’s over as each facet of the graphic novel buzzes through your mind. The book creates an entire universe of mesmerizing characters that grasp your emotions and never let go, leaving you to sympathize for better or worse.