“I think that becoming a parent was by far the biggest influence on me while I was working on ‘Killing and Dying,’ ” says Tomine, who will be speaking Saturday at 6 p.m. at Washington’s Politics & Prose at the Wharf.
“When I finished my previous book, ‘Shortcomings,’ I honestly felt like I’d painted myself into a corner in terms of subject matter and tone and style, and I was kind of stumped about how to escape,” Tomine tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.
Having kids, though, “was like discovering this secret trap door in that corner that allowed me to write differently about new things,” the Northern California-born cartoonist says. “It’s also just had such a strong impact on me as a person, especially in terms of how I interact with the world, that I think that can’t not show up in the work to some degree.”
In the especially affecting title story, a stuttering daughter who wants to pursue stand-up comedy faces a tough audience in her less than supportive father. And in “Translated, from the Japanese,” a mother writes a stark and wrenching letter to her infant boy.
“My initial goal was to create a book of pure fiction, with no autobiographical content at all, which is probably an insane, impossible ambition,” Tomine says. “I actually tricked myself into thinking I was doing that, mainly just by inventing characters that were superficially different from me, or depicting scenes that I’d never literally experienced.
“But unsurprisingly,” the cartoonist says, “here ended up being a ton of autobiographical stuff infused into every story, and it somehow feels like my most personal book.
“In a weird way, I think that the fictional premise of the book allowed me to go much deeper into my own emotions and fears and regrets than if I tried to draw myself as a character experiencing those things.”
Other notable tales in “Killing and Dying” — all six originated in Tomine’s comic-book series “Optic Nerve” — include “Go, Owls,” about a woman’s relationship with an abusive sports fan, and “Hortisculpture,” which revolves around a landscaper’s dual struggles with his art and the woman in his life.
So what’s next for Tomine creatively? There has been a film project he keeps close to the vest — and naturally, things come back to family. “In terms of something that actually has a pretty good chance of existing out in the world someday, I’ve been working on a book that no one but my wife knows about,” he says. “Until now!”
Tomine will appear Saturday at 6; Washington’s Politics & Prose at the Wharf, 70 District Square SW; moderator: Linda Holmes of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.