Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

Drawn & Quarterly


444 pages

Buy Now

Connection. We all crave it. To people, places and things. When we have it, it’s magic. When we don’t, it’s misery. How these connections are made, sustained and nourished is explored by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s latest collaborative graphic novel, Roaming. The book’s title suggests both the wandering spirit of the three young travelers traversing New York City at the heart of the tale, and the incurred costs of staying connected through a tumultuous stage of life. Like any traveler, the characters in Roaming must each carry their own baggage across their separate and collective journeys.

An early reference to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales aptly introduces the motley crew at the center of the story, Zoe, Dani and Fiona, each of whom are undertaking their own pilgrimage. Like Chaucer, Roaming delivers a pithy and humorous writing style that also expresses an underlying social commentary on the everyday situations each character faces: Dani recalls her father being pulled into a TSA interrogation room due to an offhand joke her brother makes; Fiona wonders if the severe response was “because he’s not white.” Zoe orders shots at a bar by using a Korean lady’s fake ID, even though she’s not Korean, because “[a]s long as the bartender is white, they can’t tell the difference.” Fiona continually rebuffs unwanted male advances, illustrating the vigilance required of women socializing in public: “Give ‘em an inch, they take a mile.” The writing never belabors any one point or lectures the reader. Rather, the three young travelers navigate their society and its underlying issues as they encounter it. Whether confronting issues surrounding race, homosexuality, feminism, socioeconomic status or colonialism, the characters’ conversations ebb and flow as they suss out their sometimes contradictory and complex beliefs.

Visually, each character is also cleverly associated with a symbol that succinctly expresses their core personality traits. Zoe’s characterization through her black hoodie helps her remain unnoticed in a crowd, speaking to the comfort of hiding yourself away from others and suggesting a suppressed secret. Dani’s constant association with a map speaks of her desire to find herself by exploring the world around her. Fiona’s association with a lit cigarette suggests her indulgence in the immediacy of sensual pleasures, which are also ephemeral in nature. New York City, like the other characters, is associated with the Statue of Liberty, signaling the freedom each character craves - from their parents, from expectations, and sometimes from each other. As the characters never quite make it to Ellis Island, liberty remains a symbol, a status the characters have yet to fully attain.

The most unique storytelling feat of this book, however, lies in the positioning of the reader within the narrative. Mariko and Jillian Tamaki navigate their verbal and visual story around the reader as a fourth traveler throughout the story. The soundscape and scenery of the text are completely immersive, allowing the reader to imagine they are trailing around New York City with these characters and intimately sharing the trip. For example, the reader is the first character to encounter the environment’s soundscape even before they lay eyes on a sleeping Zoe. Positioned in Newark Airport, the reader overhears snatches of a nearby lady’s conversation while waiting for the characters to arrive on the scene. When leaving the train station, the reader is positioned directly behind the three characters following them up the escalator and up to Pennsylvania Plaza. Whether in museums, shops or parks, the reader observes other people along the journey as much as they observe the characters. When Zoe, Dani and Fiona finally hole up in a hostel room with two sets of bunk beds, it’s as if the authors have left the last one open for the reader.

The sights and sounds in Roaming encircle the reader like a visual cacophony, imitating the traveler’s need to glance in every direction at once. Jillian Tamaki’s fluid double-page spreads provide an undulating rhythmic undercurrent to the book, mimicking the pulse of the ‘City that Never Sleeps.’ The spreads also enact an affectionate hide and seek game between the reader and the characters as the reader must examine each new bustling landscape to find where their travel mates are situated before catching up with the story once more. Tamaki’s art captures the grandeur of New York City in a way that ultimately escapes the photograph. Posing in front of the Flatiron Building, Dani gets her photograph taken by Zoe. While Tamaki’s spread captures the awe-inspiring architectural splendor of the building, and its grandeur in scale compared to the minuscule figures below, Zoe’s actual photo of Dani is a comically bad recording of their magnificent NYC experience.

Through its carefully crafted and vibrant banter, and its incomparable and inviting line art, Roaming elegantly captures the emotions of youth: confusion, love, lust, friendship, anger, betrayal, pain, and the complex journey of becoming oneself. By encompassing the reader so fully in its storytelling, it reminds us that while we undertake our own journeys we don’t need to travel alone - there is strength in numbers and solace in connection.