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 We’ll Always Have New York

A review of Roaming

At this point, a week-long trip to New York City is almost a prerequisite to having the full Montreal undergraduate experience. Roaming, just published this past month by local publisher Drawn and Quarterly, deftly immortalizes this ancient and treasured tradition through the eyes of first-year college students Zoe, Dani — childhood friends, and known in the story as Zee and Dee — and a new classmate, Fiona.

A fresh collaboration from graphic novelist superstars Jillian and Mariko Tamaki is certainly cause for celebration. Their previous joint efforts, Skim and This One Summer, have become important and beloved classics in the last few decades of Canadian comics. Though the cousin duo have individually produced some very respectable works (which have won them the Best Writer Eisner, among others) few have aptly matched the unique poignancy and skill found when their strengths unite in a single work.

Their latest project Roaming represents the symbolic final entry in a trilogy of stories collectively exploring the themes of girlhood and coming of age. For working in such a saturated genre, the duo still succeed at breathing true authenticity into their stories. Roaming’s protagonists feel like real people: they’re cringy and gossipy, well-meaning yet selfish and impulsive. They come alive effortlessly the very moment you meet them on the page.

As in This One Summer, the crux of this story concerns the potential rupture of Zee and Dee’s lifelong friendship. Budding feelings between Dee and the new classmate Fiona build towards a profound breaking point. In a breathtaking sequence during the book’s climax, Zoe and Dani are literally transported back in time — mid-conversation — while they gently ruminate over their high school days. For a brief moment, they’re able to relive their old comfortable dynamics through a shared vision of a simpler, brighter past — realizing at once the gravitas of their collective memories and the fragility of their imperfect present. Throughout their five-day trip, tensions crash and convalesce again and again, as our protagonists roam together (or apart) on this voyage they’ve stumbled into. 

Roaming’s vision of New York is smoky and sensorial; readers, just as the characters themselves, are bombarded by a plethora of visual contrasts, by amusing passerby conversations, by greasy pizza and puzzling artwork — by the unique messiness of a bustling city life. Shown through a pleasing color palette of cool peaches and lilacs, the book’s aesthetics are rendered simply but with striking precision and beauty.

For many queer Asian-Americans growing up in the 2000s, the Tamaki cousins’ body of work filled a critical hole in mainstream media. Their stories, almost too real and too brazen at times, were often the only representations we found of ourselves in mainstream comics. Roaming showcases what the Tamakis are best at; quietly heartbreaking stories of Asian-American queerness told with genuineness and care.

Drop whatever dreadful literary fiction nonsense you’re forcing yourself through right now, and visit your local independent bookstore to pick up a copy of Roaming

The Tamaki cousins are back and better than ever.

Olivia Shan