It’s 2009 and at Newark airport in New Jersey, a young woman called Zoe, her hair cut newly and severely short, waits for her old school friend Dani, with whom she’s about to spend a weekend in New York, a city neither of them has ever visited before. At home in Canada, both are first-year university students. But they’re studying in different places and they miss each other; this is a longed-for chance to catch up, as well as to play the tourist. There will be shopping in SoHo, slices of pizza “as big as a place mat” and bitter coffee in “We are happy to serve you” cups, just like on the TV show Law & Order.
But what’s this? When Zoe finishes hugging Dani – the two of them squeal as if they’ve been separated for years – she looks up to see another young woman: Fiona, Dani’s Montreal dorm-mate, and (she is now informed) an art student and creative genius who works “in fibre” but may soon “pivot to video”. Zoe, amazingly, takes Fiona’s unexpected appearance in her stride, for all that this cuckoo immediately lets her know how boring she finds New York (she’s well acquainted with it, thanks to a loaded Brooklyn-dwelling brother who may or may not exist). But the reader knows very well what lies ahead, for while two’s company, three is almost always a crowd – and never more so than on holiday. Fiona, with her sass, her opinions (“a real monument to western imperialism” is her only verdict on the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and her taste for booze and weed, looks like trouble. Sure enough, it isn’t long before she’s flirting with Zoe, whispering poison about Dani and throwing up in the back of a yellow cab.
Roaming is another collaboration between Eisner award-winning cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki and it’s bliss: a book for anyone who remembers the intensity of teenage female friendships or, for that matter, a first fraught trip to New York. The dialogue, on which they worked together, is pitch perfect, whether we’re talking about our trio of heroines, or those they encounter as the city slowly wears them out (the patronising, ponytailed jobsworth who runs their hostel; a woman Dani meets in Central Park, who tells her New York is “40% vampire, and 10% psychopath”). As witty and naturalistic as any I’ve ever read in a comic, every line adds to the sense of the fractured dynamic at play: a caffeine-fuelled tumult of competing loyalties, burgeoning sexual attraction and the frustration born of trying to understand the subway.
But it’s Jillian Tamaki’s art that really makes Roaming a special thing. New York is hard: expensive and unwelcoming. As Dani says, she cannot imagine living in a city where a person has to fight for a share of the sidewalk. And yet it’s bewitching too: the architecture of Grand Central station; the model of the blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History; the delicious takeaway food. Somehow, Tamaki captures the misery and the magic, her strips full of movement and life even as her colours bring to mind those of old Polaroids. Here in pale pink and grey blue is the spring break we’ve all had at least once: we felt big, we felt small, we lived on cheap noodles and adrenaline.
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