Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Roaming’

“Around the world the trip begins with a kiss”

The Tamakis – Mariko and Jillian – bring us their new book, Roaming, which is published by Drawn & Quarterly. I’m not as enamored of the Tamakis as some, but this sounded interesting, so let’s see if I’ve changed my mind!

Roaming takes place in the spring of 2009, and it concerns three Canadian freshmen college students on Spring Break in New York. Zoe is going to school in New York, and her long-time friend, Dani, comes down to visit her, bringing along Fiona, who’s in one of her classes and with whom she’s become friendly. Over the course of the week, they wander around the city, and things don’t go as planned, as you might expect. It’s a slice-of-life kind of book, which is what the Tamakis do well, so it’s not like there’s danger and violence and extreme stuff, but the three young ladies go through a few things, and they don’t end the week the same as they began it. But … is it interesting?

Well, yes. This is a pretty good comic, although I’ll get to why it’s not great. Zoe and Dani, as I noted, have been friends for a while, but Fiona doesn’t know Zoe and barely knows Dani, so the story becomes about this new person “intruding” on their friendship, which means we get to read about their relationship because they’re explaining it to Fiona. Fiona is also different from Zoe and Dani – she’s very brash and brassy, and she struts through life very confidently, which is attractive to both Dani and Zoe, who seem a bit more subdued (especially Dani). Dani wants to be a tourist – she’s keen to check out museums – while Fiona wants to visit bars and go shopping, because she likes to have a good time. She’s not an airhead, certainly, as she brings up interesting points about cultural imperialism, but when she does, it feels like the dude in Good Will Hunting that Matt Damon takes down, as if she’s parroting stuff she read or heard because it makes her sound edgy. She calls out Dani’s hypocrisy and her own, but does calling out hypocrisy make it any better? Eventually, she hooks up with Zoe, and that’s what makes Dani really mad (not that she has any designs on Zoe or Fiona, just that she feels it’s rude). This drives a bit of a wedge into their friendship and their vacation, and it drives the events of the end of the book.

The reason I don’t love it is because, I suspect, the reason a lot of people will love it: the protagonists are teenagers (18/19 years old, sure, but still teens). Why is this a problem for me? As I have often pointed out, teens are idiots. They can’t help it, but they are. Girls less so than boys, but still. The Tamakis do a really good job of getting into the minds of teens, and the book feels very authentic … but that’s the part of the problem. Fiona is kind of a jerk, and we find out it’s tough to believe what she says, but she’s not all that bad, and Dani gets a bug in her butt about her and won’t let it go. As I noted, Dani does not seem to have any romantic interest in either Zoe or Fiona, so why should she care if they hook up? It feels like a manufactured kind of drama, but that’s how it is with teens (believe me, I know). Zoe’s interest in Fiona is unsurprising – she’s the cool new chick, while Dani is the long-time friend. No doubt Dani had the same reaction to Fiona when they met, or she wouldn’t have brought her along, so why is she upset that Zoe has a similar reaction? Because teens have the attention spans of gadflies, that’s why. It’s both frustrating and interesting reading this book, because you just keep want to say “Stop being idiots” to each character, but they have to work it out for themselves. I like the fact that the Tamakis don’t really offer any good solutions at the end, because that also feels true to life. I know I should unequivocally admire the realism of the situation, and adults often act like idiots as well, but it also frustrates me to see anyone acting so dumb. I know I didn’t act like this when I was 19 (I was an idiot in other ways, but not like this), and it’s vaguely annoying to see characters acting this way. Maybe it’s a “me” problem, but I’m the only one writing this!

I know the Tamakis split writing duties, but I don’t know how much they split art duties, so I don’t want to just single out Jillian, even though I suspect it’s mostly her work (her web site shows her art, while Mariko’s tends to stick to writing stuff). Anyway, the art is superb. They’ve come a long way since This One Summer six years ago, and they really immerse us in New York, which is nice. The lines have gotten a bit thinner in general, but when it does get a bit thicker, they’re used to really good effect, to make the world seem a bit scratchier and more textured. When the focus is on the characters, we tend to get slightly fewer black lines and more colors, especially with Fiona, who becomes slightly more exotic than Zoe and Dani. It’s a clever way to show Fiona’s allure. The lack of holding lines in the landscapes – the buildings and lampposts and whatnot – makes New York look a bit ethereal, adding to the sense of this week as being outside of the normal world, which mitigates Zoe’s “rudeness” because her hook-up with Fiona doesn’t seem real. They take us inside some of the museums and give us double-page spreads of the contents, which adds to the amazement Dani, especially, feels about being in the city. After Dani feels betrayed by Zoe, we get nice scenes in which she wanders the city, trying to sort through her feelings, and the final pages, in which the girls ride the subway, are rife with metaphors, but the realism of the art helps keep it grounded. It’s a gorgeous comic, and it makes the girls’ idiocy less egregious, because we can see how real the hurt for Dani is, for example, even though her pain is petty.

I don’t mean to sound bitter about the characters – as someone who is dealing with a person whose emotions are all over the place at this stage in her life, I get it – but the emotional roller coaster of the book does keep me from loving it, as it’s too hard for me to relate. I imagine other people will relate much better and therefore like the book a lot more. I liked this more than This One Summer, for what that’s worth. Overall, this is a good book showing characters working through some things and figuring out who they are. It’s done well, and I certainly recommend it. I just don’t know if you’ll have more patience with these characters than I do, but if you do, you’ll probably like it a lot more! You can buy it here (usually I use the image link, but it’s not letting me do that, so there you have it), if you’re interested!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


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