Jimmy and Sara have been best friends for a long time, despite their differences. Jimmy is a sheltered young man who is satisfied to give his mom his salary and receive an allowance in return (He says, “It’s an Asian thing.”) Sara is sarcastic and driven, with a weird set of rules about dealing with the men in her life. Jimmy is a lackadaisical romantic who just wants everything to stay the same. Sara is a “nice Jewish girl” who wants to “get a life” outside of Oakland, CA. When she finally does get out with a publishing internship in New York City, Jimmy realizes that he can’t live without her. To savor the romance of it all, he writes a letter asking her to meet him on the top of the Empire State building after he takes a bus ride across the country. Of course, they have never shown any romantic interest in each other before…
Jimmy is not yet a grown up, as he fully admits. He focuses on his lack of a pipe and newspaper subscription as his problem while he should probably think a little more about his personal finances, ability to relate to people, and career prospects. Still, his lovable optimism and positive view of the world (“Tee hee. You said the F-word. Just like in ‘Goodfellas’”) make him likeable while staying surprisingly relatable.
The bus ride and New York story is drawn in blue tones. This is intertwined with vignettes telling the story of their past friendship in pinks and reds. The monochromatic scenes focus attention on the action and the scrunched up, cartoony figures that Shiga is known for. The simple drawings mask the emotional complexity of the underlying story while also evoking a strong sense of character, especially in the supporting cast. I felt like I could practically smell Melvin, the unshaven redneck who befriends Jimmy on the bus and plays the wise fool to Jimmy’s overly romanticized dreams.
Jimmy, however, is the most simply drawn of all the characters, which felt a little weird for the hero of our story. Yet, Jimmy, as the everyman and a simple fellow who doesn’t crave the action of the big, wide world, works well as such a simple cartoon. Each movement of his eyes becomes even more important because his mouth disappears completely when closed, with only a button nose to break up the round monotony of his face.
Empire State will not be for everyone, yet when it works for someone, it will really work. It evokes the awkward feeling of not knowing what you are doing without slamming Jimmy into a dark pit of despair. He feels like he is getting left behind by his best friend and wonders what his future will hold. Many twenty-somethings can understand that. The witty humor, hipster commentary, and poignant look at what it means to grow up that will keep readers engaged with this tale.