While looking for a graphic novel to read today, I came across Empire State: A Love Story (or Not), by Jason Shiga. Flipping through Shiga’s book and seeing the illustration style (drawn with a #2 pencil on copy paper, then inked, then digitally painted) I first thought, “oh great, another hipster, fuck the art — I have a story to tell, graphic novel” where the artist does something like use stick figures to re-tell Shakespeare. But, it wasn’t like that at all. Shortly after beginning to read it I found that the art isn’t without its own unique style and is just as effective as telling a story as any other comics illustrations would be. Also, it wasn’t just that this book had simple “Sunday comic strip” like illustrations, but the story was really damn good. It got a little depressing, sure, but still pretty damn good. Shiga wasn’t lying when he called it “a love story (or not)”.
In Empire State, a young man, Jimmy, travels to New York City to find his best friend, Sara, and tell her his true feelings for her. During his journey to, and arrival at New York City, we see pieces of his past life in Oakland. He’s a geeky guy, who lives at home, works at a library, and has an interest in web design. He doesn’t date much, and has never had a bank account. Jimmy’s life in Oakland may have been mundane, but it was also simple and secure. Until Sara left to pursue a job in publishing, Jimmy had never even considered leaving Oakland, but leave he does and soon sets off across the nation to do the boldest thing he’s ever done… by bus.
I feel that in this story, Shiga, created something that many who consider themselves geeks, could easily relate to. I know I don’t speak for all geeks, but I feel that Shiga’s story has the jealousy, angst, hope, fear, love, shame, awkwardness, and a sense of not having found oneself that I, and many of my friends, have experienced at one point or another. There are these great moments in the book where plans fall through for Jimmy or he’s left feeling inadequate for the immediate situation. Jimmy also seems like a guy who has a lot of growing up to do, but doesn’t know really where to start. Something else I can easily identify with. Sometimes the book is a little frustrating in that it switches back and forth from Jimmy’s past to present with no warning, but once you figure out what’s going on it’s still a solid story. I also liked the references to Empire Strikes Back, HTML, and Utah rednecks (a few other things I have in common with Jimmy). Overall, I do recommend this book. For as comic and loosely drawn as it may appear it is loaded with real emotion.
If you want to find a copy of Empire State, you can find a copy at most book retailers or at Amazon.com. You can find links to Amazon on this site, and any purchase you make via the link will help Atomic Moo with no extra cost to you. I honestly feel that if you’ve ever had your heart broke, or had epic plans blow up in your face, or were totally overshadowed by the awesomeness of a dude dating the chick you wanted, (all of which strangely apply to me as well), then this is a book you will love to read.