Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Whether it’s your first time or your day-to-day, NYC can be overwhelming. You can feel the city pulling you, your friends, your relationships– everything apart, slowly but surely. For a city filled with a lot of people, NYC sure does ask a lot of its people, tourist or not. NYC asks its people to come together, cross paths, and keep it moving. I’ve been there. Seen that. Have you ever been? I went in late October 2007 to check out universities. It was my first time on my own — the other time was for a baptizing in Queens. I was similarly overwhelmed.

For Zoe, Dani, and Dani’s dorm friend, Fiona, New York City wasn’t so different in 2009. Or rather, the NYC tourist trip wasn’t so different. The airport, getting a metrocard, trying to find a Barnes & Noble use the bathroom, a tiny hotel next to a 24 hour Duane Reade, planning a trip to the Met. My feet hurt from all the walking.

Thankfully, Roaming is a kickback to the old school rule. Roaming is a pocket full of memories from Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki blurring the edge of semi-autobio confession and love letter to the NYC. Cousins Tamaki take us on a trip down memory lane when phones had limited minutes, so sometimes the easiest way to run up a phone bill was to let it roam.

Early on, most anecdotes held a shared disdain of misogynistic dudes and how they creeped into every facet of NYC life from airport benches to professors back home. The Tamakis add and drop motifs like souvenirs and vacation photos that are given page space to feel significant– it’s very “first NYC tourist trip.” You make plans, they change. So these narrative techniques are subtly introduced and subtly dismissed. It’s this capricious approach that mirrors the unpredictability of Roaming’s characters and tourist vacationing as a whole.

From Zoe coming to terms with her inability to make it work, Dani realizing there are only so many minutes in a day, or Fiona who conflates maturity with poise and confidence, this visit begins as a wish list, and ends too soon for some, and not soon enough for others. These young women find NYC different than how they’d picture it. How different a painting looks up close and from afar.

With Jillian Tamaki’s ligne claire approach, the pages are filled with stippled spreads that look photorealistic from afar, but upclose have an unrefined and rushed air. This contrast resonates with the twists and turns in our vacation friend relationships, echoing throughout their emotional and thematic arcs. The dot eyes do so much to refocus appreciation on the character acting lineart, so subtle expressions read easier. Just like picking up snippets of every conversation you walk past in NYC, dialogue is sparse but impactful, so large sections are devoted to wholly quiet, broad spreads that allow imagery its ambience. This depiction of NYC as quiet with people the noisemakers feels all too real to be fiction.

When I went to NYC, it was autumn. My uncle from NJ took me to Wo Hop in Chinatown to eat egg drop soup and lemon chicken. They had crispy wontons that you dip in sweet chili sauce! When I went to the Met, it rained, and we fell asleep in the colonizer exhibits, so that little pin they give you fell off my hoodie. We went, theatre kids from FL, to see Les Miserables. I was so shocked it was Lea Salonga’s last night. Felt right for me to see another Filipino succeeding at that juncture in my life. Mind you, my visit to NYC wasn’t hewn with black, creme, blue and peach strokes. The streets I walked didn’t have thick, uniform gutters that often stagger step 4:3 ratio panels into an easy experience.

My word balloons didn’t exist behind foreground elements, in-world, to increase immersion. My whispers didn’t have curly little tails. My sentences didn’t have mixed use case. When I raised my volume, I didn’t use ALL CAPS. Hell, aside from one big tail mixup in a climactic moment, Roaming didn’t speak like me, didn’t talk like me, but yet the trips we had were so similar in hindsight. I, just like the recurring imagery of ants, pigeons, and passengers, felt like I was a part of a migrational pattern of folks who drift in, find their way around, and fly back home.

The cousins Tamaki kickstart this brutally honest kickback with Zoe reading Canterbury Tales, a tale of competing narratives clashing with other walks of life. That’s New York. Or at least, that’s what I remember when I went. Maybe your trip was different. Maybe it was tourist trap after tourist trap. Maybe it felt better.

Or maybe, it felt like Roaming.

Roaming is now available.

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