The New York Times Magazine’s annual ‘New York’ special is a chance to focus on and celebrate the city itself – and the latest edition, publishing this weekend, has been given over entirely to comics.
UK artist Tom Gauld has also been brought in to tie the whole edition together: he has drawn all the ‘non-feature’ pages in his own hand – the contents, editor’s letter, contributors page and even the puzzles towards the back – while a typeface based on his handwriting has been used throughout.
The project has been something art director Matt Willey has been keen to do for a while and is his third ‘New York’ issue since arriving at the magazine in 2014. When last year’s subject was proposed as ‘the city above 800ft’, he conceived of the idea of turning the entire magazine on its side (ad pages and all) to allow for plenty of tall, portrait-oriented photography. (The Magazine’s design team was awarded Best in Book in our recent Annual for its work on the special issues.)
For the new all-comics edition, the Magazine’s special projects editor Caitlin Roper worked with the Times’ Metro desk to pull together a selection of their favourite stories from the archives. The design department then shared some of these with the artists “giving them a few each to choose from, trying to match them up with stories they were excited about,” says Willey.
Kevin Huizenga’s strip acts as an introduction to the issue, but the first story proper, Bill Bragg’s The Window Gazers, actually starts on the cover.
“Bill was talking about how to start his feature and mentioned an idea for his opening page where, panel-by-panel, you slowly zoomed in, from a cityscape to a window,” Willey explains. “He drew it on a Post-it and I thought it could make a great cover. It’s quiet and simple and intriguing. I love that it’s wordless, like a silent movie, just ‘continued on page 20…’ at the bottom.”
The stories cover the city from Brooklyn to Orchard Beach and move between tales of competitive bird singing (Andrew Rae, see below) to the hunt for a missing dog (Bianca Bagnarelli, above).
Robert G. Fresson’s beautifully executed ‘The Amiable Child’ moves through the expansion of the city from the late 18th-century, with a memorial to a five year-old boy at its centre; while KL Ricks’ ‘The Laid Back Break In’ brings the selection right up to date as an imposter takes over an AirBnB account and a vacant apartment.
Sammy Harkham manages to deftly revive one of the saddest stories in the collection – the tale of the one murder that took place in the city on 9/11, but that was eclipsed by the sheer scale of New York’s most tragic day.
Of course, the city itself threads through all these tales – true stories brought to life again in words and pictures.
Tom Gauld has also drawn a story for the issue alongside all the non-feature pages (the editor’s letter is also a witty cartoon all its own).
“It meant that every page in the issue, aside from the ads, was drawn,” says Willey. “In what is a somewhat chaotic issue – visually at least – I wanted those pages to feel a little more coherent, and Tom handling all of them helped do that.”
Gauld drew the lines between columns of text, headlines, puzzles and puzzle grids, even the covers of the Magazine’s previous issue (one featuring a dog, the other a cat) that appear on the letter’s page known as ‘The Thread’.
“He did a brilliant portrait of Tilley Walden for the Contributors page, mimicking the photographs by Kathy Ryan that usually run [there],” adds Willey.
“Tom had a few different typefaces that had been made of his handwriting, and he let me use those in the issue for the folios and slugs that run at the bottom of each page, and for a lot of the text-heavy ‘front of book’ pages,” Willey continues. “It made editing live copy on those pages in the last week of going to print, a little easier … or remotely possible.”
The culmination is a collection of short stories that show the breadth of just what comic art is capable of – and a snapshot of a bustling city where it seems everybody has a story to tell.
Check out the stories at nytimes.com. The ‘New York’ issue of The New York Times Magazine in out on June 4. The full list of contributing artists includes Bill Bragg, Kevin Huizenga, Robert G. Fresson, Tillie Walden, Wesley Allsbrook, Bianca Bagnarelli, Sammy Harkham, KL RIcks, Tom Gauld, Andrew Rae, Francesco Francavilla, David Mazzucchelli and Sophia Foster Dimino