by Michael C Lorah
March 19th, 2013
Rama Rating: 8 of 10
A combination artbook/short story collection by New York adoptee Peter Kuper, Drawn to New York repurposes many of Kuper’s illustrations, sketches and short comics to capture the energy, humanity, chaos and seediness of the Big Apple. As someone who works in Manhattan, I feel safe saying that Kuper succeeds on many levels. Everything is filtered through his political and economical prism, giving Drawn to New York a specific and personal vision, but the sum total of its components adds up to a distinctly New York experience.
The book’s biggest success stems from Kuper’s not attempting to force a narrative or structure on its disparate elements – the sprawling, directionless, unbridled mass of the city is best captured in these snapshots and short narratives. Kuper mixes representative illustrations with impressionistic sketches to capture both the physicality and personality of neighborhoods. One sequence uses apartment building windows as panels in a comic book to support the city’s millions of individual stories. Of course, this glorified sketchbook approach may not work for all readers, but when you’ve been drawing city-inspired scenes as long as Kuper has, you have a tremendous catalog of sketches to show off. Appreciate the artwork if not the themes.
Kuper’s short comics stories bring readers into the lives and experiences, not necessarily literal, of Manhattan’s urban dwellers. “Jungleland” is a frenetic adventure of survival against the wilderness and the ceaseless greed of fellow man. “Chains” examines the interconnected nature of our lives and our sins, and “The Wall” takes a satirical approach to the disparity of economic classes living side by side and the exploitation of the poor. Kuper also brings readers inside his September 11, 2001 experience as a resident, a father, and a politically active cartoonist (Kuper is cofounder of and contributor to the superb World War 3 Illustrated).
Whether you live or work on the island, visit as a tourist, or absorb the city’s iconography through its omnipresent pop culture presence, everybody takes something unique away from New York City. Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City is Peter Kuper’s New York, and anybody who’s spent any time here, physically or otherwise, will recognize the energy and architecture, the grime and crowds, the beautiful humanity, the foods and odors (on one page, he uses smears of color in an attempt to show the smells of parts of the city) and sights. Love it or not, there’s no place on Earth quite like New York City, and few people have captured it as effectively as Kuper.