Empire State Review - Jason Shiga

Empire State cover

Who hasn€™t suffered the bitter-sweet pangs of unrequited love? The experience has produced some of the greatest art in history from the philosophical musings of the Ancient Greeks to the love songs of every era, it is a universal touchstone for everyone. Added to this list of great art is Jason Shiga€™s graphic novel €œEmpire State: A Love Story (or not)€ which tells the tale of 25 year old Jimmy who works at his local library in Oakland, California, whose feelings for his friend Sara don€™t reveal themselves to him until she leaves Oakland for New York City to pursue a career in publishing. After posting her a heartfelt letter, he sets out across America on a lengthy bus journey to confess his feelings to Sara face to face. But Jimmy€™s going to find out a lot of things on his first journey outside of Oakland in this funny, real, and sweet story. Empire State is drawn in a similar style to manga but looks more stylized, rudimentary, and deceptively simplistic. Shiga€™s art is perfectly suited to the book as he€™s able to convey all the emotion he needs through the characters€™ expressions and slight movements. Jimmy is an excellent character, a somewhat unsophisticated and unworldly young man satisfied to remain in Oakland indefinitely, stacking shelves at the library and working on his outdated (its full of gifs!) website. He€™s both innocent and naive while also seeming quietly frustrated as we find out about his life, living with his mum who manages his finances, taking his paycheck and giving him an allowance - even at 25! His character€™s development from the realisation of his feelings when Sara leaves, to his eye-opening bus journey across America, seeing just how big the country is for the first time, to reacting when he steps off the bus into New York, is remarkable. Shiga€™s writing and art really sells the character€™s experiences and we believe and feel Jimmy€™s excitement and terror as he does.


But it€™s the little touches that really make this story stand out. When Jimmy asks if Sara received his letter and she pretends she didn€™t - that€™s a defining moment in the story, told so subtly in facial expressions. But Jimmy and Sara€™s moment at the airport is really touching - their final goodbye. It€™s a goodbye on many levels - a literal goodbye as Jimmy goes back to Oakland and Sara stays in New York, it€™s a goodbye to Jimmy€™s old perceptions as his experiences in NY have changed his world-view, it€™s a goodbye to their friendship, both as it used to be and maybe for good, as they move on with their lives. Really beautiful, understated moments like this are rare in all of literature and they€™re here in this book.


The layout of the comic is very artful - rather than panels set out in a grid they are adrift on the page, roaming without direction like Jimmy. The story jumps between the past and the present, the past coloured in a single pink hue like rose-tinted memories and the present coloured in a light blue like that of a cold new day. It€™s also a great way of telling the reader when this part of the story took place. As sweet and kind of sad the story feels, it€™s often light-hearted and funny. Jimmy€™s relationship with his daffy mum is really great and I loved their conversation where Jimmy lies about his reason for heading out east. His bus journey is brilliant too as he meets some colourful and disturbing characters on the Greyhound (I€™ve travelled across America by Greyhound myself and the weird passengers on those buses are spot on). I laughed out loud several times while reading. It€™s a love story, it€™s a coming of age story, and it€™s, quite simply, a really good story. If you€™re a fan of Adrian Tomine or Bryan Lee O€™Malley€™s €œLost at Sea€ (with Shiga€™s book, collectively known as the comics sub-genre €œSensitive Asian Boys€), or maybe you€™re just a fan of great comics, then Jason Shiga€™s €œEmpire State€ should be next on your reading list.

I reads and watches thems picture stories. Wordy words follow. My blog is http://samquixote.blogspot.co.uk , and if you want to see all the various places I contribute to, or want to send me a message, you can find links to everything here: http://about.me/noelthorne/#