Roaming, by Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki (Sept. 2023, Drawn & Quarterly)
In 2019, I was a young, queer, Asian-Canadian protagonist. My personal version of Roaming played out during reading week, when I had the chance to be part of Comic Arts Brooklyn. I travelled with comic-headed peers from my classes at OCAD University. It would be three years until I visited New York again. Yet, during those lockdown days, the memory of that liberating experience acted as a source of pleasure.
Our activities during the trip were seemingly simple: we explored art galleries, went thrift shopping, navigated the intricate subway system, indulged in drinks, called each other mean, and witnessed our meticulously crafted plans take unexpected turns. On the surface, these activities mirrored what we often did in our hometown of Toronto. However, something inexplicably shifted when transplanted to the backdrop of New York. The mundane gained a sense of grandeur. The events of Roaming are similar. Why had everything suddenly become so cinematic in New York?
This new graphic novel answers this question with, “you had to be there.” The story benefits from this answer by making you feel as if you really were there. I found myself fascinated by the inner workings of the protagonists’ relationships. Jillian skillfully illustrates these mechanics through meaningful exchanges of expression and gesture, complementing Mariko’s essential and conversational dialogue. The story’s settings and streets acted as more than mere backdrops; they echoed and amplified the emotions and themes of the characters’ conversations. Moments of stylish flair in the form of full spread splash pages contrast with depictions of the ordinary in order to underscore the depth of their journey.
Ultimately, Roaming is a story that focuses on themes of vulnerability and growth. It portrays awkward tenderness, the growing pains of adolescent friendship, and the sensations of being swept away by emotion. Through its carefully crafted narrative and evocative imagery, Roaming effectively illustrates the transience of youth, a transience that oftentimes persists into adulthood.
This article appeared in the 2023 Sept/Oct issue.