Jason Shiga is a singular artist that I have to admit I’ve slept on. I had purchased several of his self-published mini-comics (I would confirm this if my “archives” were in order), but I never really engaged with one of his books until Demon. As I eagerly await the next volume, I found some previous books to catch up on.
I tend to enjoy comics that are playful in narrative technique such as Matt Fraction and David Aja on Hawkeye, or clever in structure such as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons with panel structure in Watchmen, or self-aware such as Grant Morrison in Animal Man. At the same time, I occasionally become overwhelmed by relentless changes in narrative structure, such as the book-length “Here” by Richard McGuire or the more diagrammatic Chris Ware pages, which pull me right out of the narrative.
Jason Shiga’s “Meanwhile” fell too far into play for me to engage with the story, and in retrospect, while reading the short comics I didn’t value his patience and playfulness with the narrative. If I were to tell you the plot of “Empire State” I could do so in about three lines. That is because the plot is the least important part of the narrative Shiga has built here.
The art is simple and straightforward and the figures are so simple that at first read I undervalued his art for its weight and authority. There are a few clunky panels or figures, but these are rare and only standout amongst so many pages of figures, backgrounds, and layouts which put the characters front and center in a world that feels absolutely real in a way that the best comics artists can do using such abstract designs.
Detailed backgrounds and flat limited palette colors serve to highlight the story flow and help the reader focus on crucial information. Shiga plays with timelines to accentuate the character’s progress through their arc in the story. At one point I thought I had found an error in balloon tail placement, but then realized quickly that I was being given key information about a time jump instead. Once I absorbed that I needed these context clues, the characters became an even greater focus, which is crucial when the rendering is so clean and unburdened by detail.
I don’t care to discuss spoilers in plot and character development, so that will admittedly make this essay light. Just believe me when I tell you that Shiga does not waste pages, panels, or words in delivering his story. I found the main character’s arc incredibly affecting, even though it has a gentle touch. A complex and compelling story told in a direct style.