Scenes from an Impending Marriage
by Adrian Tomine
Reviewed by Gerry Donaghy
When I was young and single, I had a good laugh thinking of Ambrose Bierce's definition of marriage as being "the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all two." And when you're young, marriage seems like such a silly, grown-up and bourgeois institution. Why think about marriage when there's a Superchunk concert tomorrow night? I never really thought about it — until I met the woman I wanted to marry.
Marriage is probably the singular touchstone of being an adult. However, when I was planning my own wedding, it seemed like I was just pretending to be grown up. My wife ate up everything about it. She relished picking out flatware and china patterns, calling caterers and bridal shops. As for me, I was kind of like the corpse at a wake; I had to be there for it to happen, but I didn't get to say anything (I did, however, stand firm in my sole wedding demand: no ragtime).
Adrian Tomine, the graphic novelist who created Optic Nerve, sketched a series of comic strips to be given to their guests as wedding favors, depicting what he and his fiancé were experiencing in preparing for their nuptials. These cartoons were recently published as the book Scenes from an Impending Marriage, and, while it represents something of a departure from his usual material, the result is still 100 percent Tomine.
The characters that typically inhabit Tomine's comics are dour, young misanthropes and their victims. While Scenes from an Impending Marriage may feature a frequently grumpy Tomine and his (sometimes) frustrated fiancé, there is a great deal of humor in these strips. Most of this can be attributed to his decision to abandon his usually meticulous style of drawing. Instead of the crisp, almost mechanical realism he displays in Optic Nerve, Tomine goes for a quick and dirty sketching style that is more in tune with a daily comic strip (he seems to pay particular homage to both Family Circus and Peanuts here).
Of course, this is material that is pretty well-trodden; the usual disagreements about seating arrangements and music are there. But there are some zingers that few couples have probably ever had to deal with. For example, while visiting a possible reception venue, the couple notices that it has floor-to-ceiling windows facing a housing project. "Can you imagine living in those buildings and looking into these windows every night?" Tomine's fiancé asks. The salesperson takes a moment to cheerily ask, "Would it make a difference if I told you this is one-way glass?"
There is one throwaway gag in this collection that mercilessly nails the often Kafkaesque experience of planning a wedding. Tomine spends three days hand-addressing each invitation with a special calligraphy pen, because, otherwise, his fiancé would have just used a ballpoint, offending his aesthetic sensibilities. The next series of panels shows a woman going through her mail, announcing to her partner, "Hey…Adrian and Sarah are getting married." "That's nice," the partner replies, following it up asking, "Did we get a Netflix?"
This gag reminds me of when I was (mutely) planning my own wedding. My future uncle-in-law (who I should add helped us pay for the wedding), said to me, "What you have to understand is that the wedding isn't about you; it's about everybody else." What that last gag I mentioned reminds me of is that, at the end of the day, while a wedding may be about everybody else having a good time, the memories of the day really belong to the bride and groom alone. While the reading public doesn't really need a memento of a wedding that happened to a couple we don't know, thankfully, Tomine and his willing-to-be-slightly-caricatured bride have given us a keepsake that can remind us of our own wedding days. Even if you aren't married, this book can come in handy. If there is a wedding day in your future, you'll know ahead of time that, no matter how hard you protest, you will probably end up hearing Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n Roll" at your reception. Or ragtime.