Will Eisner’s NEW YORK: THE BIG CITY
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
Reading this illustrated story book is a positive experience in many ways.
First, the size.
It’s large. Page dimensions are 8.5” x 11”. The meticulously hand drawn pictures are large enough to appreciate the wonderful and profuse details spread throughout the pages. Compare that with the tiny shrunken size of the daily comic strips hidden in the back of the daily printed newspaper. No comparison.
Second, the color.
Actually, only the front and back covers are in full color. The stories within are illustrated in blacks, whites, and grays. But what blacks, whites, and grace these are!
We see an indistinct gray outline in the background and realize, hey, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge emerging from the mist! Or blacks: look how black takes over the final page in the 3-page tragedy OPERA. Line-wise look at how body language and facial expressions are illustrated so clearly and efficiently; for example, see the main female character in ARIA.
Third, the people.
There are lots and lots of people in this book. Eisner’s ability to illustrate so many individual personalities is uncanny. He seldom lapses into caricature even when spoken dialogue is represented as heavily accented. He has a special fondness I for what we in the “middle class” might refer to offhandedly as “down and out.” Yet he imbues all with character and personality even when they are engaged in the nefarious or unsavory.
Fourth, the city itself.
Eisner states that the city represented here is not just New York but is intended to represent all big cities and their mixes of races, incomes, and personalities.
Having traveled a bit myself and having been fortunate enough to supplement my lifelong suburban lifestyle with a stint living in Brooklyn, I take his word for that. What cities represent as opposed to suburbs is the effect of people living close together and what that closeness does to the inhabitants and the environment. Eisner focuses here a lot on two of the most obvious impacts of close urban living: trash and noise. Another element of city living well illustrated here is motion. People and things are in constant motion with some pages just awash with movement (for example, see the first page of MAZE).
The “cartoons” in this book are the most sophisticated I’ve seen since Walt Kelly’s POGO. Highly recommended.
Review copyright © 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald