For several years, cartoonist and MacArthur Fellow Ben Katchor explored in comics the vanishing (or long gone) rituals we associate with life in America’s metropolitan centers. His clever black-and-white strip “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer” debuted in the New York Press’s first issue in 1988 alongside work by Charles Burns and Mark Newgarden. All three artists were by then contributors to RAW, a groundbreaking comics and visual art magazine helmed by current New Yorker Art Editor Françoise Mouly and her husband, comics creator Art Spiegelman, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus originated in its pages.
Katchor published a self-contained volume of Julius Knipl in 1991 under the title Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay. Over the years — and again now, on the release of its 25th-anniversary edition from Drawn & Quarterly — the book has been deemed a “graphic novel.” It’s not, and the distinction is important; Knipl’s serialized sidewalk-chess matches and 50-cent cups of coffee are as lost to history as flattening out and soaking in your Sunday newspaper’s full-color comics section is. Katchor unearthed these customs in his chronicling of an unnamed Depression Era–city we’ll call New York, while also gesturing fondly in the direction of the funny pages and their legacy.
“Kids used to camp out on the floor,” Katchor told critic Sam Adams of reading newspaper comics. “I remember opening the paper, the news was small, but you needed to just lie on the floor.”
In the new landscape hardcover of this long out-of-print collection, Knipl mulls over ever-changing city blocks, inspecting their shifting typography and, in the tradition of such reporters as Gay Talese or Joseph Mitchell, profiling its uncelebrated sign makers and pharmacists. A mock newspaper page includes a Knipl comic and the illustrated vintage ads that line the book’s cover interiors — a fresh addition that complements the original strips, in which Katchor’s photographer pores over headlines at a luncheonette and brushes past neat piles of paperweight-ed broadsheets at corner newsstands. Unrefined line work and smudgy, newsprint-esque textures are offset by sequences that make use of a dynamic array of angles. We rarely see Knipl snapping pictures, but the panels are rendered with a photographic, reportorial sensibility. Bystanders catch their reflections in the “glistening crust” of a deli’s fresh danish; other strips include close-ups, bird’s-eye views, and medium shots. The script is as buttoned-up as terse newswire copy, too. Just as Katchor holds to an economical meld of black inked figures and gauzy gray watercolor, he tells touching and funny stories while keeping his word count to a minimum.
“Every week,” wrote novelist Michael Chabon in 1996, “in the eight panels of a new installment of Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, Ben Katchor manages to teleport the reader to a particular urban past — a crumbling, lunar cityscape of brick and wire that was young and raucous in the heyday of the Yellow Kid.”
Sketched in scratchy contours and donning a hat and boxy slacks, Knipl would hardly look out of place in the old papers — and comic strips — to which Katchor pays visual and thematic tribute. The reverence for newspapers here is often as prominent as the nostalgia for grandiose storefront signs and cheap deli sandwiches, and it’s worth remembering that Cheap Novelties assembles strips that first ran on pages not unlike those that gave birth to Katchor’s art form as we know it. This is no graphic novel — these are comics, and while bookseller-friendly parlance solves a shelving conundrum, it also affords a euphemism for those who would still deem such work “low art.” Not calling Cheap Novelties what it is severs Julius Knipl from the legacy of his late 19th-century forebears; worse yet, it just ignores history. That’s the last thing Ben Katchor wants.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.
PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs reveals the “career in photography” that occupied the artist in the last three years of his life.
Since antiquity, women’s eyebrows have been sites of intense scrutiny, constantly shifting between trend cycles.
A landmark show of 30 artists at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York keeps the category of Asian figuration open-ended.
Contemporary Black-Indigenous women artists Rodslen Brown, Joelle Joyner, Moira Pernambuco, Paige Pettibon, Monica Rickert-Bolter, and Storme Webber are featured in this digital exhibition.
Hall makes no attempt to entice the viewer to begin looking and to look again, letting her methodical craft compel viewers to reflect upon their experience.
In Benglis’s latest works, the forces of gravity that defined her seminal poured latex and polyurethane pieces are traded for luminous bronzes.
A new project by Columbia’s Queer Students of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation explores queer histories that have been suppressed by gentrification and urban development.