Two illustrators from opposite coasts of the United States have taken on the task of creating portraits of their dense and diverse cities. Julia Rothman in New York City and Wendy MacNaughton in San Francisco have each compiled their own narratives of their urban homes in books that come out next month.
Hello, New York: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs and Meanwhile in San Francisco: A City in its Own Words — each being published in March by Chronicle Books — are like collections of memory from living in a city. They center on the details and people whose paths you cross everyday, which you could easily confine to forgetfulness or instead bring together into a greater story about a place. However, while the two books are similar, they are about very different places, and where Rothman details a very personal relationship with New York, MacNaughton gives the collective community a voice.
Rothman’s Hello, New York is part exploration guide, part scrapbook of her life in Park Slope after growing up on City Island with a father from the Bronx whose father grew up on the Lower East Side. Maps of things like all the Ray’s pizzas in Manhattan and the layouts of New York apartments are illustrated alongside loving sketches of “lesser-recognized, under-appreciated buildings of Manhattan,” including the Potter Building at 38 Park Row and the American Standard Building at 40 West 40th Street, as well as the art at the Metropolitan Museum she’d most like to take home, from John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X” (1883–84) to Matisse’s “Reclining Odalisque (Harmony in Red)” (1927). There are quick draws of museums from the Guggenheim to the lesser known curiosities like the Troll Museum on the Lower East Side, as well as sidewalk snacks under five dollars, from hot dog to mango with hot sauce and lemon.
Alongside these compilations are long narratives from people she meets along the way, such as a librarian in the Rare Book Division at the New York Public Library and a friend who swims in the East River. Everything is given just a couple of pages at most, but there’s a continued story of keeping a sense of wonder with a city you’ve known your whole life, yet when you look at its skyline it ”doesn’t look real.”
“It could be a still from hundreds of movies, an image on thousands of postcards, the background to millions of snapshots,” she writes.
With San Francisco, MacNaughton spent days, and sometimes months, talking to as many people as possible in different parts of the city, from Muni drivers to the people on 6th Street, where “it takes a huge amount of energy to live” and “everyone goes to work to hustle.” The words are directly from the people she meets, but are presented as a voice of the collective place alongside her detailed illustrations which she sometimes draws right on the street. As she writes: “People are often put off by a stranger with a camera in their neighborhood, but when they see someone standing on the street corner drawing with a pen on a pad of paper, they stop.”
Meanwhile in San Francisco is less verbose than Hello, NY, but has the same eye for the details in the urban chaos, such as the names of the bison in Golden Gate Park — including Broomhilda and Buttercup — and the difference between the overheard conversations from five minutes at 6th Street and Mission compared to 5th Street and Mission, places “a block away. A universe away.” And it’s that divisive nature of a city, with all its diversity, that both books seem to be trying to overcome through illustrating a core sample of personal journey in a city.
Hello, New York: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs by Julia Rothman and Meanwhile in San Francisco: A City in its Own Words by Wendy MacNaughton will both be available next month from Chronicle Books.
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