Whew! This time, my aging, addled brain ‘got’ Jason Shiga’s latest graphic creation almost immediately. I admit that freely because his bestselling, many-award-winning Meanwhile (gives the word ‘matrix’ a whole new meaning!) had me so discombobulated with all its unique cleverness, I didn’t know which way to hold the book anymore. Someone out there, please send me a cheat sheet – I have no shame left in old age! And if you could let me know if that Jimmy is this Jimmy?
Thankfully, Empire State is an adorable love story (or not) neatly organized into just two color palettes. The red pages are Jimmy-dominant; the pages start and end in Jimmy’s hometown of Oakland, California where he works in a library, dreams of being a web designer, and shares a comfortable friendship with Sara. Interspersed with the red, are the blue pages, which literally take Jimmy out of his comfort zone – from Oakland to New York – to chase Sara who’s gone to the big city to follow her dream of working in the book publishing world. Two chapters combine both red and blue … but you’ll have to discover for yourself why that might be …
Shiga presents a puzzle-like adventure in true love, complete with JDate, craigslist, Google New York, a cross-country bus odyssey complete with recent prison inmates, Sleepless in Seattle-anticipation, consumer culture rants, High School Musical 4, and a kiss meant to “get you through the next year or two.”
The simplicity of Shiga’s graphics – his squat and solid would-be lovers, for example – together with his no-nonsense storytelling belie a subtlety and depth to a complicated commentary on 21st-century love, missed connections, emotional isolation in an age of instant access, and so much more. Even minor characters – Sara’s friend Mark and Jimmy’s mother’s blind-date choice – reveal volumes, regardless of the small number of comic panes they might inhabit. Shiga is definitely a slyly entertaining master of his graphic universe … which also makes him one quirky, inventive creator to keep watching very, very closely.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult