Denys Wortman’s New York
Written & Illustrated by Denys Wortman
Edited by James Sturm & Brandon Elston
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Collecting nearly 300 drawings of New York City during the 1930s and 1940s, Denys Wortman’s New York accomplishes many things – not the least of which is renewing interest in a nearly forgotten cartoonist. Wortman spent thirty years drawing cartoons for New York World, yet until just a few months ago, his work seemed relegated to history’s forgotten file folder. Fortunately, James Sturm – cartoonist and proprietor of the Center for Cartoon Studies – uncovered some of Wortman’s work, tracked down the cartoonist’s son, and found a massive trove of illustrations and drawings.
In Denys Wortman’s New York, readers are treated to page after page of nuanced pencil drawings – full of details which would never have reproduced in newsprint – depicting New York city in the middle of the 20th century. Wortman touches on most subjects, though he avoids anything that would court too much controversy. Dating, paying the bills, days at Coney Island and the beach, and neighborhood gossip are just a few of the subjects touched upon. Each illustration gets a full page, with a hand-written caption at the bottom. Captions range from humorous to tear-jerking – these weren’t necessarily gag cartoons. Wortman comments on a wide range of topics facing New Yorkers, including the omnipresent Depression that wore on the city during the first of the two decades covered in this volume.
While the captions are interesting and often quite insightful, the artwork stands out as the reason to own Denys Wortman’s New York. Simply put, Wortman was a master. Each drawing is carefully composed – using areas of light and dark, as well as compositional lines – to guide the reader through the densely packed details (from rooftop vistas to packed beaches), reaching the heart of each scene. Delicate pencil shadings add texture and nuance to each illustration.
Denys Wortman’s New York not only preserves the work of a nearly forgotten cartoonist – the book showcases gorgeous illustrations and carefully observed glimpses into the routines of urban American life. This work should not only be remembered; it should be studied, because it will be a highlight of anybody’s comics library.