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Primary Colors, Brighter than Usual?

Delegates, superdelegates, penalized states with half their delegates — or none. This year's political primaries are putting renewed focus on the delegate system, but what does it all mean? Political scientist David Rohde clarifies.


Other segments from the episode on January 31, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 31, 2008: Interview with David Rohde; Interview with Adrian Tomine; Review of the television program "Lost."


DATE January 31, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Professor David Rohde of Duke University discusses
this year's primary race

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Super Tuesday is just a few days away. Forty-one percent of Republican
delegates and 52 percent of Democratic delegates are at stake. In a tight
race every delegate counts, but each party has different rules for choosing
delegates and those rules vary from state to state. Complicating matters even
further this year is the fact that Florida and Michigan scheduled early
primaries in violation of both the Democratic and Republican Party rules. The
Democratic Party says it won't seat delegates from either state. The
Republican Party is more lenient in its punishment. It's seating 50 percent
of the delegates from Michigan and Florida. Meanwhile, John Edwards dropped
out of the race yesterday without endorsing any candidate, and Rudy Giuliani
ended his campaign with an endorsement of John McCain. We're going to talk
about the primary system, how delegates are chosen and what part they play in
choosing their party's nominee.

My guest David Rohde is a professor of political science at Duke University.
He's written extensively about the political process.

So now that Edwards has dropped out of the race, what options do his delegates

Mr. DAVID ROHDE: They're essentially free agents. They can support either
of the remaining major candidates or they can wait.

GROSS: And are they obliged at all to follow his lead?

Mr. ROHDE: No, not at all. They become essentially uncommitted delegates
now, but Edwards has very few delegates and we're not down to two candidates,
so the possibility that this is going to go all the way to the convention
becomes very, very slim; and so it is likely that either in the wake of Super
Tuesday or within the next month, we're likely to have an outcome and
therefore Edwards--either his recommendations or his delegates aren't likely
to have a lot of influence.

GROSS: Now, now, let's look at Giuliani. He's dropped out. He's supporting
John McCain, so his delegates aren't obliged to support McCain. How do you
think his dropping out affects how the primary will shape up for Republicans?

Mr. ROHDE: His departure has a somewhat different dynamic than the
Democratic race because we are not yet down to two candidates. One might say
we're down to two and a half now, with Huckabee being a half candidate, and
Giuliani's departure no longer divides the moderate vote in the Republican
Party, but Huckabee still being in divides the conservative vote. So
it's--Giuliani's departure is a bigger advantage for McCain than Edwards'
departure is for either of the Democratic candidates.

GROSS: Now experts have been saying that it's mathematically impossible that
Super Tuesday would be decisive in choosing the Democratic or Republican
nominee. Does that change at all with Giuliani and Edwards dropping out?

Mr. ROHDE: That statement was true and remains true in the largely
irrelevant sense that no candidate will have a majority of the number of
delegates to the entire conventions, in the Democratic case something over
2,000. But that's not what these events do. The events set the stage for
what will obviously follow. And so if one candidate wins decisively on Super
Tuesday, that candidate will be the Democratic nominee whether or not they
have a mathematical majority of the delegates or not.

GROSS: How did Super Tuesday get started?

Mr. ROHDE: It's the consequence of a whole series of events. Before 1972,
the nomination process in both parties were dominated by party organizations
and what are generally pejoratively called "party bosses," leaders of state
level and local organizations who--candidates appealed to them for support,
and then the combination of their decisions determined who would win
nominations. In the wake of the Democratic Convention of 1968, the riots in
Chicago and things like that, the process moved to put more influence in the
hands of rank-and-file voters. That shifted the process in favor of
primaries; the number of primaries tripled in the wake of that decision. And
so it was when the number of primaries proliferated that the tradition of
Super Tuesday came to the forefront.

GROSS: Were there states that didn't have primaries?

Mr. ROHDE: Well before 1972, three-quarters of the states didn't have
primaries. They had caucuses and party conventions where delegates were
selected, so relatively narrow and low-level public participation. There were
a handful of very prominent primaries, of course, New Hampshire being the best
known. New Hampshire was first, ever since they first held the primary in
1920. And so primaries were a potentially consequential but comparatively
minor influence on the nomination process.

GROSS: Florida and Michigan jumped ahead in the primary schedule this year
against their party's wishes and their parties are penalizing them. The
Democrats say that they won't seat any of the Democratic delegates from those
states and the Republicans are seating only 50 percent of the delegates that
would have gone to the convention. Has this ever happened before that states
were penalized for leapfrogging ahead?

Mr. ROHDE: No, not like this. Both parties tried to institute some controls
this time in order to mitigate the front loading that was going on, so the
effort is a recent event and therefore the penalties are a recent event.

GROSS: What are some of the consequences that these Democratic and Republican
decisions might have about Michigan and Florida delegates. For example, if
the primary races remain very close, then say the Democrats could decide,
`Well, we're going to allow Michigan and Florida to be counted after all.' And
that might be a decisive factor. Or the Republicans might decide, `We're
going to allow that other 50 percent of delegates from Michigan and Florida to
be seated and that could decisive.' And it could be seen almost as if the
party would be fixing it at that point to have the outcome that they wanted,
depending on how they treat Michigan and Florida.

Mr. ROHDE: What you describe could indeed happen, although I think it's
extraordinarily unlikely that races will remain close. I think we will have
nominees. But the convention is a judge of its own membership so there often
in the past have been disagreements about what set of delegates should be
seated. This was especially true in the days when caucuses and conventions
dominated. And so there would be competing delegations determined at a
convention, and then they would in effect appeal that decision to the national
convention. So, yes, if things aren't determined--let's say, based on what
happened in the Florida primary, the Clinton forces could argue that they
should receive the lion's share of delegates from Florida and that those
delegates should be seated at the convention, and the convention will make a
judgement on that. I think it's very likely that the convention is going to
end up seating delegates from Michigan and Florida, but that will mainly be
because their decisions won't influence the outcome.

GROSS: And you think that if their decisions would influence the outcome,
they'd be less likely to be seated?

Mr. ROHDE: Well, there'd be a fight over--a big fight over whether they
should be seated or not.

GROSS: Why isn't there a consistent way of choosing delegates state by state,
and there's no consistency between the two parties either. Republicans have
their way, Democrats have their way. And so it seems as if people's votes are
uneven. People have a different amount of voting power depending on where
they live and what party they belong to.

Mr. ROHDE: Right. This is mainly a consequence of the federal system and
history, so the convention system goes back to 1832. And so since the federal
system left regulation of most things dealing with elections during the 1800s
and 1900s to the states, at the state level, each of the states made their own
decisions about what was the best way to do things, and that has largely been
maintained up to the present day. As I described earlier, since the 1970s the
national organizations, the national convention, has imposed some restrictions
on the states, so there's a window during which things have to take place, and
there's a proliferation of primaries and things like that; but these are still
mostly decisions made at the state level. And therefore, since you have
51--counting the District of Columbia--51 entities within each party, you get
a wide variety of decisions.

GROSS: Why don't you run through some of the differences between, state by
state and between the two parties in terms of how delegates are chosen?

Mr. ROHDE: Sure. I'll start with the Democrats because given the national
reforms that they put in in 1972, there's more similarity across the states
there. The Democrats leave to the states the decision about whether or not to
have primaries or caucuses. Overwhelmingly the states have chosen to have
primaries. There are about, in any given election year, 35 to 40 primaries.
The remainder are caucuses. Within each state, a certain number of delegates
are allocated statewide; the rest are allocated by congressional district.
And within those allocations, that is--to take an example, North
Carolina--there'd be a certain number of delegates determined statewide. A
candidate would have to win 15 percent of the popular vote statewide to have
any share in those delegates. And among the candidates who did get 15 percent
or more, the delegates are allocated proportionally to the vote among them.
The same thing is done within the state within each congressional district,
and each candidate would have to win 15 percent of the vote within the
congressional district to have a share of that district's delegates. And
among those candidates, they're divided proportionally.

Now you can see that once the number of candidates is winnowed down to two or
three with a proportional allocation, really it's important in determining how
much strength the candidates are going to have and whether they have a chance
to determine the nomination. So if all of the primary results are very close,
the delegate totals will be very close. If one candidate dominates the
popular vote in the primaries, they're going to dominate the delegates.

GROSS: What about the Republicans?

Mr. ROHDE: Well, because the Republicans didn't go through the same reform
effort that the Democrats did, there's less of a regularity across the states.
So first of all, the Republicans don't use proportional representation for
most of their states. A lot of states are determined on a winner-take-all
basis, either statewide--as was done in the recent Florida primary--or by
congressional district. And so in Super Tuesday that's coming up, both New
York and New Jersey are winner-take-all by state, so if one candidate gets
even one more popular vote than the other candidate, they get 100 percent of
the delegates from that state. California on Super Tuesday is winner-take-all
by congressional district, and so within any congressional district a
candidate who wins the most votes gets all of the delegates within that
district. Then in addition to this, other states have proportional primaries
or they have caucuses, some of which are winner take all, some of which are
proportional; and again these decisions all reflect choices made by either
state governments or party organizations at the state level.

GROSS: My guest is David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: We're talking about the primary process and how delegates are chosen
with David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke University.

Now some delegates are special delegates, and they remain uncommitted. For
example, the Democratic Party has superdelegates, and about 20 percent of the
delegates at the convention will be superdelegates. What are they?

Mr. ROHDE: Superdelegates in the Democratic Party are party officials of one
sort or another. That is, they're either members of the Democratic National
Committee, or they're office holders, or in a few cases, former office
holders. So, for example, Bill Clinton is a super-delegate by virtue of
having been president of the United States as a Democrat. So all of the
Democratic members of the House, all of the Democratic members of the Senate,
all of the Democratic governors, and all the members of the DNC, plus a
smattering of former office holders, 796 this time around.

GROSS: What's the rationale behind having about 20 percent of the delegates
be these superdelegates?

Mr. ROHDE: This is a consequence of the reform effort in the 1970s because
one of the things that happened, because delegate choice was put in the hand
of the public, was that in some cases party leaders were being left out
because they had backed the wrong horse within the state. In 1984, the
Democrats decided to put in these superdelegates to make sure that party
officials, office holders, would always have an influence, be able to exercise
some sort of independent judgement. Again, it hasn't been very consequential
since the nominations have been determined very early and therefore they never
got around to making any kind of independent judgment.

GROSS: But it's possible we'll get to see the superdelegates in action if
it's a tight race?

Mr. ROHDE: That's right. It is possible. And in any event they are also an
independent force for decision making for other matters that the convention
could potentially decide, matters of platform or future part rules and things
like that. Those are other judgments that the convention makes.

GROSS: The Republican Party has their version of the superdelegates but
there's a much smaller number of people that fit into that category. What's
the Republican version?

Mr. ROHDE: The Republicans actually have two categories. The strict
analogue to superdelegates are the members of the Republican National
Committee, around 160 people; and they are, again by virtue of their office,
automatically delegates and this is determined at the national level. Also,
however, individual states have decided to allocate delegates to uncommitted
status, where they also tend to fill these with party officials and office
holders, and so there are a number of states where not all of the delegates
are determined by the primary or caucus. Some of them are left to exercise an
independent judgement. For example, on Super Tuesday, Minnesota and Colorado
are two states where a big chunk of the delegates that are allocated to those
states are going to be--end up unpledged after the results on Super Tuesday.

GROSS: I think that there are some Democrats who still really wish that Al
Gore was the nominee; and some people are wondering, well, if it's really
tight and inconclusive, is there any way that Gore could step in. Is there
any way that that could possibly happen or are these people ridiculous in even
believing in that possibility?

Mr. ROHDE: Well, I certainly don't like to call people ridiculous. I
think--what I try to do as a political scientist is to distinguish things that
are possible from things that are probable. There are a lot of things that
are logically possible that are unlikely to occur. Indeed, as I've
emphasized, I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that things would actually
get to the convention for a decision, but it could happen. And if things
aren't determined, to be sure, anybody could announce, say, `I want to be the
Democratic nominee for president.' And then the convention would choose.

Some states, either in state law or in party rules try to restrict the choice
of delegates and say that they are pledged for two or three ballots or until a
candidate releases them or something like that. But the individual delegates
at the convention, within the constraints that the possibility of some being
legally bound, they can make whatever choice they want. But especially in the
Democratic Party, these delegates have been vetted and chosen by the
candidates to whom they are pledged, and so they're by and large likely to
stay loyal. But if new information became available, if new events occurred,
if something happened to lead them to think that they should change their
mind, it's possible for the convention to do that. So Al Gore could, you
know, the day the convention convenes, announce as a candidate; and if the
delegates really wanted to, they could choose him as their nominee.

GROSS: So legally it would be possible to just bypass the whole primary
process and announce five minutes before the end. I realize how improbable
any of this...

Mr. ROHDE: Sure.

GROSS: ...ever is but there's no rules against it.

Mr. ROHDE: Well, like I said, there are, In many cases there are rules that
bind the delegates, either rules in state law or in state level party rules,
but whether those are enforceable or not is a question. Whether they're
practically enforceable even if they're enforceable legally. I mean, in any
event, enforcement would be done after the fact and that's how the convention
would have made its judgment. But like I say, these people are going to the
convention committed to candidates and so, except for those like the
superdelegates that are determined to make an independent judgment, most of
the delegates are going to stick with what they were pledged to do because
that's what they want to do in any event.

GROSS: A lot of people who live in states with big cities--and I'd include
New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California--are very frustrated that the
early primaries are in states that don't have cities comparable to that, and
they feel that the early momentum is geared towards small towns and suburbs as
opposed to people in big cities. Is it being done that way for a reason? Is
that intentional?

Mr. ROHDE: I think it has been done for a reason and I think it is
intentional, and the reason is to maintain the possibility that somebody who
is not very widely known at the beginning of the process--a senator or a
governor from a smaller state, somebody who is relatively new on the national
scene--that those people are given an opportunity to make their case to the
American people and show that they have support that they can then build on.
And I think that actually the current process does work that way, especially
this year. That people who produce surprise victories in early events, like
Iowa and New Hampshire, are brought to the attention of the nation, but they
don't automatically have success because of that. I mean, Huckabee is a good
example this time around. That nationally almost no one had heard of
Huckabee. His victory in Iowa catapulted him to attention. He moved up in
the polls, but now he's started to trail off;, but at least the national
front-runner wasn't automatically the winner. And I would note that in the
Republican Party that was Rudy Giuliani, who was, for a long time, the
national front-runner and is now not a candidate at all.

GROSS: Well, David Rohde, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. ROHDE: Oh, it's been a great pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: David Rhode is a professor of political science at Duke University.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Comic book artist Adrian Tomine

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Adrian Tomine is a comic book artist best known for his series "Optic
Nerve." He's been publishing since he was a teenager, but his new book
"Shortcomings," is his first graphic novel. It's about a 29-year-old Japanese
American named Ben Tanaka, whose girlfriend, Miko, accuses him of being more
attracted to white women than to Asian-Americans. The book is filled with
funny observations about love and identity politics. I'd love to show you his
illustrations, but since I can't do that, how about a short enactment of the
dialogue? We've called on the FRESH AIR players--our associate producer Patty
Leswing and FRESH AIR alum Ian Chillag--to perform an excerpt from the
beginning of the book. Ben's girlfriend Miko has organized an Asian-American
film festival. Ben and Miko are leaving a screening of a film about a young
Asian-American woman who has just bonded with her grandfather and now
understands his Haiku-like wisdom. The audience loved it, but not Ben.

Mr. IAN CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) Did you really like that?

Ms. PATTY LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): I guess it was kind of corny, but

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) I can't believe that was supposed to be the
best of the festival. Talk about a big fish in a small pond.

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): Well, we had more submissions than ever

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) Yeah, of digital videos made by Asian-Americans
who happen to live around here. Didn't they also have to be left-handed or

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): We worked really hard to put this festival

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) I know. I'm not criticizing you. I'm
criticizing the crappy movie. Am I allowed to voice my opinion?

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): You don't have to. You made it perfectly
clear with all your fidgeting and groaning. And I'm sure Lane could hear you
snickering throughout her film.

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) It's good for her. You can't control an
audience's reaction.

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): Well, it's a little embarrassing for me.
And really, who are you to criticize?

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) Hey, I know a lot more about movies than she
does. I'm in the industry.

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): The industry? You manage a theater.

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) That's right. A real movie theater, where none
of these movies are good enough to play at.

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi) Look. If you didn't like the movie, that's
fine. I don't understand why you have to get so angry.

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) Because everyone knows it's garbage but they
clap for it anyway because it was made by some Chinese girl from Oakland. I
mean, why does everything have to be some big statement about race? Don't any
of these people just want to make a movie that's good?

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): God, you drive me crazy sometimes. It's
almost like you're ashamed to be Asian.

Mr. CHILLAG: (As Ben Tanaka) What? After a movie like that, I'm ashamed to
be human.

Ms. LESWING: (As Miko Hayashi): OK. Let's just drop it.

GROSS: I wanted a reading of that part because I think it just like frames
the whole graphic novel so perfectly since race is at the center of this
particular conversation. You know, there are so many festivals now--black,
Jewish, Asian--revolving around personal identity. Why did you want to open
the comic there, with the friction around a kind of ethnic identity oriented
film festival?

Mr. ADRIAN TOMINE: I think I was using that as a a starting point, as a
negative example in a way of what I was going to set out to do in the next 100
pages, as someone who's attended a number of those types of festivals and
events. I think that was definitely on my mind as I decided to finally do a
book that would take up the challenge that so many people had put to me in the
past of addressing some issues of race within my work.

GROSS: Why did you use that in opposition to what you wanted to do? What did
you want to do different?

Mr. TOMINE: Pretty much everything. First of all, I wanted the work to be
judged based on its own qualities, not for an easy message that it sends. I
have to agree with Ben in some regards that I think there are some works of
arts that are praised more because we are agreeing with the message that it's
making rather than the quality of the work itself, and I think that's what I
was trying to avoid. I think I was, you know, for many years, I'd been almost
taken to task about sort of avoiding, almost as if I'd been consciously
tiptoeing around, the issue of race in my work; and I think once I finally
decided to attempt that, I wanted to do something that was consistent with the
work that I'd done in the past and wasn't all of a sudden me getting up on a
soapbox and pontificating about things that I'm sure most of my readers
already know.

GROSS: Well, you know, in some of your earlier work the character who was
your surrogate and was wearing glasses didn't really have eyes. He was either
wearing sunglasses and you couldn't see his eyes, or you saw his glasses but
you didn't--his regular glasses, but there was nothing beneath it. You didn't
see any eyes at all, just the glasses.

Mr. TOMINE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Was that a way to avoid any kind of ethnic identity? Like, if eyes
reveal Asian identity and there's no eyes, who knows?

Mr. TOMINE: Right. Right. That's sort of been held up as Exhibit A in a
lot--in people's accusations towards me, and I think that really so much of
the discussions that arose once I started working publicly were a surprise to
me and that was one of the surprises because I was, in terms of the artwork,
just working in a pretty old cartooning tradition of when someone puts on
glasses, they just almost are opaque and that goes through a lot of the comics
I was reading at the time; but also back to things like, probably my earliest
inspiration, which was "Peanuts," by Charles Schulz. You look at the
character of Marcie and she just has kind of opaque white glasses so I think
that was about the extent of my planning in that regard. And then it
was--it's been brought up quite a bit as if it was some attempt to hide my
background, which seems a little bit strange because it wasn't like I was some
recluse who never allowed myself to be seen by the public or anything.

GROSS: Is this the most personal comic that you've done? And if so, do you
feel more exposed by it because the comic has so much to do with both ethnic
identity and sexual identity, and sexual life?

Mr. TOMINE: It is the most personal thing I've done, not in the way
that--it's the least explicitly autobiographical thing that I've done. I've
done other stories in the past that have been almost literal transcriptions
from my life but they're about absolutely mundane occurrences, like changing a
flat tire or something like that; so in that case you don't feel exposed at
all, you feel great confidence being completely truthful and honest. But with
this story, it's not literal in its depiction of my life, but I definitely
open myself up in a lot of ways and put thoughts of mine and observations into
the fictional world. And I have to say that I don't think this is the kind of
book I could have written even five, six years ago, because I think at that
point in my life I was still very concerned about how the work would reflect
upon me as a person. And I have to admit that there were times where I was
thinking of an imagined audience reading the work and thinking, `Oh, the guy
who wrote this must be so sensitive and he must be a smart guy or something.
And I think it was really useful for me to have this sort of turning point in
my thought process where I was not so concerned about that. And it was very
liberating to be able to say like, `Well, you know, some people might not
respond so well to this but I still feel compelled to put it on paper.' And I
think that's what really allowed me to create this book.

GROSS: So you wanted people not only to like your work but to like the
author, to think that the author was a swell and decent and enlightened man?

Mr. TOMINE: Yeah, well...

GROSS: Have you stopped worrying about that?

Mr. TOMINE: Well, you know, most normal boys as they're growing up they, in
order to become attractive, they might, you know, get good at sports or join a
rock band or develop good social skills; and for some reason I thought that
drawing comic books might be my route. And, you know, I guess it goes without
saying that that was sort of a misguided endeavor, especially in high school.
But that was definitely on my mind. I think that I've referred to there being
a flirtatious quality in some of my older work that kind of makes me cringe
when I go back and look at it.

GROSS: Flirting with who?

Mr. TOMINE: Oh, some imagined audience. You know, probably some girl that I
thought that I would someday meet or something.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TOMINE: You know, it's--even when I was creating stories in the past
that had some questionable characters, I feel like there's just still this
sense that me, as the creator of those characters, is somehow judging them or
I'm, you know, showing their bad behavior and then somehow, subtly, I'm
implying that, `Well, I'm criticizing that and aren't I much more enlightened
than this guy? And you know, I think that can really be a dead end, I think,
artistically. I mean, maybe it will lead to something in your real life, but
in terms of the art I think that that's a real track that you can get sucked
into; and I felt myself going down that path for sure.

GROSS: My guest is comic book artist Adrian Tomine. His new graphic novel is
called "Shortcomings."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Adrian Tomine and he's a comic
book artist, graphic artist, and his new graphic novella is called

You know, one of the things I really like about the comic book as a form is
the thought balloon, because it's like the interior and the exterior. It
shows how you're looking but it also shows what's going on inside, what you're
thinking. And I think in that sense it's something that's really unique to
the comic unless there's like a voiceover in a movie. What do you really love
about comic books that you think--you couldn't do in any other medium?

Mr. TOMINE: Well, the type of cartooning that I think is generally referred
to as alternative, or underground, is usually--the distinction is usually in
terms of whether it's made by one person, the entire thing is done by one hand
or more of a production line process, which is how the comics that we grew up
reading were made. And I think that if you are looking at a comic that's made
by one person, that there's just a level of intimacy that I don't really see
anywhere else. And it's, you know, I think it's just physically impossible to
make a movie or to stage a play completely by yourself, whereas something like
a comic book can be done by one hand. And I think that when you have one
person making it and one person reading it very privately, I think it creates
an interesting dynamic. I mean, just the experience of--the communal
experience of watching a movie or a play vs. sitting quietly and reading a
comic on your own certainly colors the perception of the work.

GROSS: Your mother is a psychology professor, right?

Mr. TOMINE: That's right. She was a psychology pro--she retired from that,
but she was.

GROSS: OK. I was thinking...

Mr. TOMINE: I should also mention...

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. TOMINE: I should also mention that my wife works in a mental hospital
here in New York.

GROSS: Wow. Uh-huh. Well I'm thinking, you know, anybody who works in
psychiatry, psychology or with mental health, that's a very thought balloon
kind of process, because it's about getting to what's really in that thought
balloon as opposed to what's being said. You know?

Mr. TOMINE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It's about what's going inside as opposed to the public face. And I
couldn't help but wonder if your early exposure to the idea of psychology, to
the fact that there are things going on inside somebody that you don't
necessarily have access to made you more interested in that kind of thought
balloon type of approach to the world?

Mr. TOMINE: I think so. I think that's a really good observation that, you
know, I think a lot of people point to the fact that I was an English major in
college as that being some sort of starting point for the style that I work in
now. But I think that really there is a profound effect from growing up in a
home where just the idea of psychology even exists. You know, I mean, I think
there are people who don't have that experience or where it's dismissed; and
just at a young age to be exposed to the idea that, I guess, that that's
right, that there are thoughts that are not readily apparent. And I think the
thought bubble is a good analogy for that.

GROSS: Now you were self-publishing in high school. What did that mean?
Going to Kinko's and getting copies made and handing them out?

Mr. TOMINE: Yeah. Self-publishing seems like a bit of a grand description
of what it was because it literally was taking a sketch book to Kinko's and
making--I think the first one I did had a print run of 25. And, you know, a
handful of those were given to family members and the rest are still sitting
in a box in my closet; and it slowly, slowly built from there. But, you know,
even that first experience of self-publishing, it really had an impact on me
because it certainly wasn't the same as, you know, doing something that's
going to be published all over the world. But I think when you're just
starting out, it has that feeling. And even though there were only 25 little
Xerox pamphlets, suddenly it seemed a lot more real and it seemed like it
could be held up to scrutiny that it wouldn't have had if it was just hidden
away in my sketchbook. And that was really the start of a very long and
ongoing process of sort of, I guess, self-critique or self-analysis in terms
of my work.

GROSS: It sounds like it was really an issue for you, being judged by other

Mr. TOMINE: Well...

GROSS: a person and as an artist.

Mr. TOMINE: Yeah. I think you should probably talk to my mom about that. I
think it's hard to not be affected by that. I have to, especially with this
book "Shortcomings," I had to go through some sort of mind games on myself in
a way to shut out the thoughts of it being seen; because, like I said, I was
trying to move away from that great self-consciousness that I felt was
creeping into my work. So it was almost like I had to trick myself into
thinking that I was working just for myself, like when I started out, and now
it's out there for the whole world to see.

GROSS: In one of your earlier works, your main character, who's a comic book
artist, gets an assignment and the editor says, `All we're looking for is more
of that sad romantic angst-y stuff that everybody loves.' And do you think
that like indie comic books have like developed their own cliches that you
have to avoid now?

Mr. TOMINE: Oh yeah. I think I'm at the forefront of some of those cliches
being established. I know there's a lot of people who have pared down this
type of work into either, you know, like a leaf slowly falling from a tree or
a guy sitting in his room with a tear coming down his cheek. And I understand
where those jokes are coming from, for sure. I think that if I was somehow
frozen in the mindset of being 21 years old and lonely and sad and all that,
then I think that I would just run that right into the ground, that I would be
doomed to a career of self-parody. But I think, fortunately, you know, time
progresses and I've certainly evolved as a person; and so, like I said, I
don't feel the need to use art just as a way to declare my loneliness or
something like that.

GROSS: One more question. In a couple of your comics, you mention that you
discovered as a kid the hard way that you were really allergic to peanut
butter, and to peanuts. I mean...

Mr. TOMINE: Yep.

GROSS: ...just to anything, to any trace of peanut. And I can't help but
think that that would make you go through life, if you're a certain kind of
person, feeling more vulnerable and more set apart because what's an everyday
experience--lunch--for so many people...

Mr. TOMINE: Yep.

GROSS: ...particularly kids--peanut butter and jelly--is kind of like
death-defying act. I mean, for you. I mean, you'd get really super sick if
you had that, and so it means that like it's a vulnerability to ordinary
things. You have to be careful. You have to be guarded about at least that
one thing in a way that other people don't, which means maybe you have to be
guarded about other things, too. That maybe you have this like
super-sensitive body and that...

Mr. TOMINE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...has like all these implications to it.

Mr. TOMINE: Yeah. I think you've pinpointed a lot of what's formed my
personality over the years because, you know, I've always said that I got into
drawing comics in response to basically not having anything better to do. And
I think that circumstance arose, even at an early age, from not feeling like I
could, you know, dash out onto the playground or go into the cafeteria with
the same sense of abandon as other kids might have. And it's such a severe
allergy. It's not that I would eat it and get sick or something. It really
is a life-threatening allergy; and so it's pretty weird to be a little kid and
be aware of the fact that you could die with one misstep, just on the
playground or something like that. Obviously there's no way to raise a kid
and not tell him about that and not have him be cautious, but it certainly has
had its impact on me.

GROSS: Well, if it made you stay home and do good comic books, at least you
got something good...

Mr. TOMINE: That's true. I mean the...

GROSS: ...along with the bad out of it.

Mr. TOMINE: Yeah. The payoff was slow.

GROSS: Yes. Right. Exactly. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. TOMINE: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Adrian Tomine's new graphic novel is called "Shortcomings."

The new season of "Lost" starts tonight. Coming up, David Bianculli has a

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: TV critic David Bianculli on new season of "Lost"

The ABC drama series "Lost" returns to TV tonight after eight months, picking
up where last May's unexpected cliffhanger left off. The castaways on that
mysterious island now have rescuers on the way, who may not be rescuers at
all. Meanwhile, "Lost" itself may be network TV's biggest hope of rescue from
the current writers' strike. TV critic David Bianculli has a review.

Mr. DAVID BIANCULLI: Last year, with its third season finale and a surprise
announcement a few months later, the producers of ABC's "Lost" made some bold
new moves. The final episode of 2007 ended with a surprise revelation. The
subplot involving Matthew Fox's Jack, seen going through some tough times back
in Los Angeles, was not an off-the-island flashback, an established part of
each episode until then, but a flash-forward. That meant that Jack and Kate,
also seen in this flash-forward, survived and got off the island. It meant
that the writers could go in a whole new direction. Now the future, as well
as the past and present, was open to them.

And on top of that bombshell, the creators of "Lost" soon added another. They
announced a schedule for the remainder of the series: three seasons of 16
episodes, 48 episodes in all, that would run without interruption each year,
and would, by the end, wrap up the story of the Oceanic Airline passengers.
So far, so great. With an end in sight, the writers could pace themselves and
serve us storylines and characters the way very few drama series, especially
one so full of questions and mysteries, get to do.

But then came the writers' strike. Now, as "Lost" returns this week, it's
planning to present only eight of the originally scheduled sixteen episodes
this season. Whether those other eight shows will be added to the remainder
of the run, or will be, in a word "lost," has yet to be determined.

But if we look at "Lost" the TV series in the same way it's now telling
stories, looking at the future as well as the present and past, we can predict
that this series and tonight's episode are pivotal when it comes to the
history of network television.

The Writers Guild of America strike is close to entering its fourth month.
Today also is the start of the February ratings sweep, a month-long period in
which the ratings a program delivers are used to set advertising rates for the
following fiscal quarter. There are some big-ticket special events in the
February sweeps: the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Grammys, even the
continuation of "American Idol." But when it comes to scripted drama, nothing
comes close to "Lost."

"Lost" right now is the poster child for broadcast network TV shows written by
real writers, directed by real directors, and acted by talented actors.
During the strike, it's almost like a remote island of its own, surrounded by
swampy sludge like "American Gladiators," "Moment of Truth," and NBC's newest,
tackiest unscripted competition series "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad." In a
contest called "My Network Is Better Than Your Network," NBC wouldn't even
qualify. So the future of network TV in no small way is tied up with the
success of tonight's lost. ABC has built it, but will we come? If we want
more shows like this on the broadcast networks of tomorrow, we almost have to.

Luckily, the opener itself is fabulous. For viewers, it's been eight months
since the last events on "Lost" took place; but on the show itself, it's been
mere seconds. Jack has used a communications device from someone who
parachuted onto the island to summon help, which is on the way. That
communication was made possible because Charlie and Desmond invaded an
underwater platform and turned off an island-wide jamming device. And as the
show opens, Desmond returns in a canoe with a frantic message he wants to get
to Jack about the would-be rescuers. Other familiar characters--Sayid,
Sawyer, Bernard, Juliet--help Desmond beach his canoe and pepper him with
questions. But only Hurley, who runs to the canoe while they're all talking,
asks the most important question of all, about his best friend Charlie who
died in last season's cliffhanger. No one but Desmond knows that yet, but
they're about to find out.

(Soundbite of "Lost")

Unidentified Actor #1: (As Desmond) We need to get to Jack. We can't let him
get in touch with that boat.

Unidentified Actor #2: Easy, Scotty. Everything's cool. The boat's on the

Actor #1: (As Desmond) What? On the way?

Unidentified Actor #3: (As Hurley) Hey, where's Charlie?

Actor #1: (As Desmond) That woman, Naomi, she lied. The people on the boat
aren't who they say they are.

Unidentified Actress: What?

Unidentified Actor #2: Then who are they?

Unidentified Actor #3: (As Hurley) Desmond, where's Charlie?

Actor #1: (As Desmond) I don't know but we...

Actor #3: (As Hurley) Desmond!

Actor #1: ...need to get in touch with Jack now!

Actress: It's all right. We can call him. We have a walkie.

Actor #1: (As Desmond) Where is it? Get it?

Unidentified Actor #4: What do you mean the people aren't who they say?

Actor #3: (As Hurley) Where's Charlie?

(Soundbite of ocean)

Actor #1: (As Desmond) I'm--I'm--I'm sorry, brother. I...

(Soundbite of music)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: I've seen the first two episodes of the new season. Sadly, that's
25 percent of the expected total. And they do everything you'd want "Lost" to
do. They serve us old characters and, yes, introduce new ones. They shed
light on some old mysteries and, yes, throw out some tantalizing new ones. We
learn how many other castaways got off the island with Jack and Kate, but we
don't yet know how, or, except for the identity of one other, which ones. And
as for whether the rescuers are what they seem, put it this way: has anything
on "Lost" ever been what it seemed?

GROSS: David Bianculli writes about television for

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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