A Love, Possibly? A Brief Review of Jason Shinga’s Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not)

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not)

Loving the Designs here: Empire State painted well by Shinga.

by Jason Shinga

Abrams ComicArts, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0810997479

What can I say other than I’ve been a sucker for graphic novels ever since I was a teenager rustling up Sandman comics on Wynadotte Street back in the day in Windsor.  And given the chance to finally hit up the newest publication by the well known artist/writer Jason Shinga, I couldn’t resist.

For those of you who don’t know Jason Shinga, he is an American Cartoonist and writer based out of Oakland, CA. Shinga graduate with a degree in Math from Berkley and has used this training to create comics that are known for their puzzles and non-traditional narrative structures. He has won multiple awards for his work including the 2007 Stumptown Comics Award in Best Writing for his 2007 Bookhunter.

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) is a fairly strong addition to Shinga’s nice catalog to date.  It’s strength comes in large-part due to its selection of palette and the non-linear narrative structure of the story. The colors in the graphic novel are mood setting and in that they are less than realist. But, mind you, who comes to a graphic novel looking for realism? Particularly so, when you deal with the modern fairy tale stuff of a sort-of-love story.

The plot follows a late-twenties-still-stuck-in-my-hometown Jimmy and his first trip across country (from Shinga’s hometown Oakland) to New York City. And the love story has to do with a cooler-than-me gal named Sara. Sara has moved out to NYC to pursue a writing career and through letters and phone calls back to Jimmy in Oakland, she convinces him to come out to visit. The story follows Jimmy as heads east to find Sara and does a lot of reflection on where they have come from. There is a clear bildungsroman motif here and one that works well with the unconventional love narrative. There is also some play with Jimmy’s Asian American heritage and Sara’s Jewish heritage.

On the whole the story feels a little too short. There is a lot of airiness between slides that could use some more fleshing out. And mind you, this might just be showing my biases towards more traditional written fiction than the type(s) that follow in graphic novels. I tend to consider stories in the paper and words type production. Is it worth it, this new book by Shinga? On the art alone, I’d have to say yes.

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