Thursday, July 5, 2012

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not)

Jason Shiga has created a reputation for himself as an innovative comics maker. His mazes and puzzles have appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly and Nickelodeon Magazine. His book Meanwhile was a technical marvel, a choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel with thousands of tube possibilities. He has also drawn some memorable, creative, and challenging comics like Fleep and Book Hunter. Here he turns to a more mundane topic, trying to figure out what to do with one's life.

The story follows Jimmy, a 20-something, wanna-be programmer who lives in Oakland, California. He still lives at home, works at a library, hands his paychecks over to his parents, and gets paid an allowance (It's "an Asian thing," he quips). He is friends with Sara, a young Jewish woman who smokes, has a dry, caustic sense of humor, and is very blunt. Then, she moves to New York City to chase her dream of interning at a book publishing company. Eventually, Jimmy is moved to visit her, partly because he feels he is in love with her. He writes her a letter telling her to meet him in the Empire State Building (ala An Affair to Remember or Sleepless in Seattle), gets on a bus, and embarks on an utterly unromanticized cross-country trek. Of course, when he gets there, not everything follows according to his plan...

This book has been pretty well reviewed thus far. Wired's Jonathan H. Liu wrote that "the book captures that feeling of growing up and taking on responsibilities — that time when you start to understand that you are an adult whether you’re ready or not." Nicole Wong noted that "Shiga’s style, known for incorporating puzzles and mysteries into his narrative style with wit and humor, is alive and well." The Comic Journal's Tucker Stone, who is a Shiga fan, was disappointed by the book, and wrote that he "failed to stick the landing (as well as the approach, the dismount, and everything in between)." But he is also hopeful Shiga will do better work in the future.

Even though the story is rather conventional, this book does have its share of dynamic features. It uses a non-linear narrative, indicated by changes of coloring for the time period shifts. Shiga talks more about the creation of this book in this interview with John Hogan at the Graphic Novel Reporter.

Empire State was published by Abrams ComicArts. There is a short preview of it available at

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