« In the summer of 1977, New York City was bankrupt. Times Square was run-down and dangerous at night, subways were decrepit, with floor-to-ceiling graffiti and no air-conditioned cars in the underground roast. A garbage strike left mountains of uncollected trash and evil-looking rats scurrying underfoot. A serial killer, Son of Sam, terrorized the city and when a blackout hit in July, looters tore up the town.
I was in heaven. »
I first encountered American artist Peter Kuper (b. 1958) through Mad’s Spy vs. Spy feature, which he took over as scripter and illustrator with Mad Magazine no. 356 (April 1997). At that point, I had only seen creator Antonio Prohías‘ take on that strip, and I was impressed with Kuper’s style and energy.
But my favourite of his books is Drawn to New York: an Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City (2013, PM Press), both for the wide variety of styles used in this loosely-themed collection of strips, doodles and sketches, and for its beating urban heart. It captures a part of New York City that I love – not its glamour nor its electricity-guzzling lights, and definitely not its famous fops and varnished coquettes, but its boisterous mix of cultures and the seedy, scaly alligator underbelly. It’s not the same city it was in the mid 70s and early 80s – the era of Kuper’s reminiscences on the subject – but you can still spot remnants of the past in older neighbourhoods.
As mentioned earlier, Kuper executes a number of styles with ease, but he is most easily recognized by that ‘spray-painted stencil thing’ he does so well, as well as his favourite palette of dark reds:
One of the more memorable stories of Drawn to New York is the following three pager, following the nocturnal adventures of Peter and his friend Adam as they scale a bridge and awkwardly navigate the social etiquette involved in engaging the services of a blowjob prostitute:
Here’s one of the many cynical pieces:
The following is a page from the mute Twenty-Four Hours, which chronicles the strikingly different lives of NYC denizens as they go about their day:
All the above images are excerpted from Drawn to New York, but I’d also like to include a bonus: a strip published in Bleeding Heart no. 5 (August 1993, Fantagraphics) which fits today’s theme rather well.