In the new graphic novel “Roaming,” Dani and Zoe, best friends from a Toronto suburb, meet in Manhattan for spring break. It’s 2009, and the teenagers dream of traveling the city together, seeing the sights, and reconnecting after several months apart. Soon, they’re tasting their first slice of New York pizza (“Huge, like a place mat!”) and getting harassed for cash by a creepy Times Square busker dressed as Elmo.
Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, the cousins who wrote and illustrated the book, drew inspiration from their own memories of traveling to New York City for the first time. Mariko, 47, who grew up in Toronto, remembers being scared of subways, among other things. “Whenever I was there, I was scared,” she said during a recent interview near her home in Hollywood.
Growing up in Calgary, Jillian remembered how electric the air felt in Times Square, and the lights were like nothing she had ever seen. He recalled, “The scale of looking down on Broadway was just amazing.” “You’d think, I’ll walk up there, and then it’ll take you about two hours.”
“Roaming,” which Drown & Quarterly will publish September 12, tells the story of Dani and Zoe’s adventures in the city, featuring stunningly rendered images of the visual wonders of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum. Equally captivating images of leaf-cutter ants, street litter, M&M’s stores, and assorted whimsical items.
Five years in the making, this book reunites the award-winning graphic novelists nearly a decade after their last collaboration.
Unlike their previous projects, 2008’s “Skim”, which won the New York Times/New York Public Library Award for Best Illustrated Children’s Book, and 2014’s “This One Summer”, which received the prestigious Caldecott Honor, “Roaming” the pair Key’s first non-YA book.
The book also marks the first time the two have shared writing duties to such an extent. For her other books, Marcia wrote the stories and Jillian (a former illustrator for Book Review’s By the Book column) handled the art. This time, the lines got blurred. Jillian came up with the story idea and eventually pitched it, but the actual writing process, which they began in 2019, was a collaborative effort. Jillian said, “We kicked it back and forth like a football.”
The process was so seamless that both had difficulty remembering who wrote what, often giving the other credit for a particularly funny or inspiring line.
They consider the book a love letter to New York, but also an ode to traveling as friends when you are both young and carefree and each new experience is exciting and wonderful. (Maybe, as in “Roaming,” a third wheel intrudes — in this case, the lovely and spunky Fiona — and things go momentarily awry.)
“They’re experiencing the thrill, and the thrill of being in a new place and being surprised by a place,” Jillian, 43, said in a video interview from her home in Toronto. It was a time and a feeling she wanted to explore.
“Sometimes that’s how you choose to act,” she said. “You think: This is the world I want to live in for the next few months or years. How do I write a story to fit that world?”
The two first worked together around 2005, when Canadian novelist Emily Pohl-Véry pitched the idea for a series of mini-comics written and illustrated by women. Mariko was working as a writer and performance artist in Toronto, but had never written a comic and was not much of a fan of the tramp “Archie”. “But I knew Jillian was a comedian, so I said to Emily, ‘We should do a thing with my cousin!’ He remembered. (He hadn’t even asked Jillian before.)
The pair came up with a 24-page comic and later expanded it into “Skim”, the first graphic novel to critical acclaim. Review and won many awards.
Six years later, Tamakis collaborated on “This One Summer”, a heartwarming, thought-provoking story about two young girls who spend the summer at their family’s beach cottage in Ontario. This was also well appreciated.
kate beatonThe author of the award-winning graphic novel “Ducks,” has been a longtime fan. He added, “Everyone remembers that age, being 11 years old and being so aware of what was happening and yet being so invisible and unimportant to everyone else.” “They were able to capture it all, and capitalize on these core memories with extremely powerful writing and visuals.”
In addition to all the accolades, “Summer” became one of the most banned books in America, according to the American Library Association, because of its portrayal of LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity.
Marcia said, “It was because he won Caldecott.” “I know books that had a lot more content than ours, but they’re under the radar, so people aren’t paying attention to them. Because the people who are banning these books are not reading them. All they know is that it’s a bestseller, or it’s an award winner, or it’s got two guys kissing on the cover.”
with “roaming,'” Tamakis hopes to escape that minefield with characters who are all college age. “We knew we wanted the freedom to portray what we wanted to portray, talk about what we wanted to talk about, in ways that weren’t necessarily YA,” Jillian said.
Shortly after the two began writing, Jillian made plans to move to New York to research the book. Although she lived in the city for 10 years before moving back to Canada, she worried something was wrong because, as she said, New Yorkers would know,
But then came the pandemic, and all of his visual research had to be done online. “Luckily, tourists have documented every single corner of the place,” he added.
In any case, the goal of the two was not to build a perfect replica of the city. In fact, many of the scenes are like tone poems or fanciful dream sequences or memories of the best kind; In one, Fiona and Zoe are flying among butterflies at the American Museum of Natural History, which suddenly take off into the air. Jillian said, “If you stick too close to reality, it becomes a postcard.”
Both writers have enjoyed successful careers amid their collaboration. Manrico has worked on several books for Marvel and DC, and won an award for her 2019 lesbian YA novel, “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me”. Jillian’s books include “Boundless”, which came out in 2017 and made several lists of best graphic novels that year, and the award-winning “Supermutant Magic Academy”.
In a recent interview, Canadian cartoonist Gregory Gallant (whose works include “Palookaville” and “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Week”), better known as Seth, praised Mariko’s work for its creativity and sophistication. Appreciated. And Jillian “could draw better than anybody,” he said. “She might be one of the best draftsmen in the entire medium at the moment.”
Today, both are busy with projects that are far removed from their usual creative endeavors. In addition to heading LGBTQ imprint Surelly Books, Mariko is working on her first adult murder mystery. Jillian has taken up embroidery; Recent works include embroidered book covers for Penguin Classics editions of “The Secret Garden,” “Black Beauty” and “Emma.”
But both would welcome working together again. Jillian said, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over analyzing what’s in this book: the changes in friendships and relationships and everything else.” “Perhaps I will always have more to say about it.”
As far as Mariko is concerned, “I don’t think we’ve ever written a book and said, well, let’s do another book!” He said. “But whenever I get a chance to work with him, I get excited. Even when it’s hard, it’s good.”