You can thank Adrian Tomine for transmitting your emotions so perfectly. The New York-based illustrator has been churning out hit after hit of New Yorker covers, ones that capture a singular “New York moment”—whether it’s his first cover of a boy and a girl reading the same book and looking at each other in separate subways cars, or a more recent one where residents are casually taking in an outdoor movie screening in Brooklyn. People feel connected when they look at Tomine’s work because they understand what it emits: a whimsical yet sober look at the daily malaise that is living in this complicated city. Tomine has just released a new book called New York Drawings, a compilation of all of his illustrations with notes from the artist himself.
Tomine, who was born in Sacramento, has also gained popularity for his Optic Nerve comic series. Published by Drawn and Quarterly, they have gained a pretty solid cult following among young readers. Tomine says he gains inspiration from very personal experiences—especially an upsetting past full of constant moving because of his parents’ divorce. “I think if you talk to most cartoonists, you’ll find that they had some kind of a tumultuous or unpredictable period in their childhood, and in various ways, that led them to cartooning,” he says. “Drawing comics is a very orderly, controllable way of interpreting life, and it’s something you can do almost anywhere, without relying on expensive equipment or the participation of others.”
His conceptual process is somewhat lackadaisical, a sign of his natural born gifts as an illustrator. For the New Yorker covers, he’s given a central theme, like “books” or “summer,” and is then asked to create a cover that encompasses that idea. “I do try to have a consistent element of capturing the details and nuances of the city,” he says. “’[But] I’m mostly a pretty concrete thinker, and any kind of perceived theme is probably transmitted unwittingly.”
Tomine’s mind is always responding. For his most recent cover—a man traversing the floods of Sandy with a flashlight in search of a polling place—he gained the inspiration spontaneously. He originally had a different cover lined up, but following the storm, he says he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment on its ironic collison with the election. “That thought process unfolded without any consideration of making an illustration,” Tomine says. “I was just watching all the damage and chaos unfold, and I started thinking about how it might affect the election.”
With Tomine’s popularity on a steady incline, he says he has future plans to release a new issue of Optic Nerve, along with other issues, which will eventually be compiled into a book of short stories. “I went in with no concept of any kind of over-arching theme or organizing principle,” says Tomine. “But as usual, it seems like something is emerging, so I’m just going with it.”