Tag Archives: Little Italy

Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

PODCAST  A history of the comic book industry in New York City, how the energy and diversity of the city influenced the burgeoning medium in the 1930s and 40s and how New York’s history reflects out from the origins of its most popular characters.

 In the 1890s a newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer helped bring about the birth of the comic strip and, a few decades later, the comic book.  Today, comic book superheroes are bigger than ever — in blockbuster summer movies and television shows — and most of them still have an inseparable bond with New York City.

What’s Spider-Man without a tall building from which to swing? But not only are the comics often set here; the creators were often born here too. Many of the greatest writers and artists actually came from Jewish communities in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

For many decades, nearly all of America’s comic books were produced here.  Unfortunately that meant they were in certain danger of being eliminated entirely during a 1950s witch hunt by a crusading psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital.

WITH a special chat with comics historian Peter Sanderson about the unique New York City connections of Marvel Comics’ most famous characters. Sanderson is the author of The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City and The Marvel Encyclopedia.

FEATURING: The Yellow Kid, Little Orphan Annie, Batman, Doctor Strange and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #187: Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

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COMING THIS FALL:  Superheroes’ ties to New York City history will be further explored this fall in the New-York Historical Society’s Superheroes in Gotham exhibition, which opens October 9, 2015.
(Friday, October 9 is the start of ComicCon weekend).

 

A young New York boy enjoys his comic book on the Bowery. Photo taken in 1940 by Andrew Herman.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

And here’s the comic book he’s reading from March 1940, illustrated by George Papp.

Courtesy Comic Vine
Courtesy Comic Vine

 

In this 1947 photograph taken by Stanley Kubrick, a boy watches his baby sister and enjoys a Superman comic book while his mother shops inside.

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

An issue of DC Comics’ Superman from March 1947, with a cover by George Roussos and Jack Burnley

Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine
Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine

 

A girl takes a peek at some of the comic book offerings at Woolworth’s. Photograph by Stanley Kubrick taken in 1947.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

An issue of More Fun Comics from June 1947, produced by DC Comics:

more fun

 

The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, published in 1842, is considered by many to be the wellspring from which the comic medium derives. You can read the entire issue over at the Darmouth College Library website.

Courtesy Dartmouth College Library
Courtesy Dartmouth College Library

 

A Yellow Kid adventure which would have sprung out from the newspaper due to its vivid colors.

Image courtesy Comix  Takoma; art by Richard Outcault
Image courtesy Comix Takoma; art by Richard Outcault

 

Both Hearst and Pulitzer ran versions of the Yellow Kid comic strip during the years that they were drumming up propaganda which lead to the Spanish-American War. The unscrupulous nature of their efforts earned them the phrase ‘yellow journalism’, inspired by their war of the popular comic strip by Richard Outcault,

Courtesy the Library of Congress
Courtesy the Library of Congress

 

A section of the colorful comics section of the New York Journal, 1898.

“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898  via New York Review of Books
“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898 via New York Review of Books

 

Little Orphan Annie became the biggest crossover star of the early comic strip era.  Long before there was a musical, Annie starred in this 1932 melodrama, one of the earliest comic-to-movie crossovers.

annie

 

New Fun Comics #1, the very first comic book to contain all new material, and not merely reprints of newspaper comic strips.

1

 

The Batman debuted in Detective Comics in 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. The city features in these adventures was Gotham City, startlingly similar to the city outside the creators’ windows.

Courtesy DC Comics
Courtesy DC Comics

 

Gotham City, aka New York City, in 1939

Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation
Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation

 

Vault of Horror, one of an assortment of shocking comic books produced by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The cover art is by Johnny Craig.

Courtesy EC Comics
Courtesy EC Comics

 

Bill Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, at his offices at 225 Lafayette Street.

Courtesy Tebeosfera
Courtesy Tebeosfera

 

Dr. Fredrick Wertham, the writer of Seduction of the Innocent, who lead a charge against the comic book industry.

fred

 

seduction

 

A young Stan Lee during the war as a member of the US Army’s Signal Corps. He even managed to do a bit of illustration for the cause!

stan lee

 

The Thing from the Fantastic Four with the  Yancy Street Gang, a variation on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side.

Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine
Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine

 

Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is located on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

What would Spider-Man be without New York City? The image of the Brooklyn Bridge (called the George Washington Bridge in the story) is featured in a classic tale involving the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacey, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, John Romita and Tony Mortellaro,

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

A page from Maus by Art Spiegelman, the graphic novel that brought the medium to a new level of respectability in literary circles.

Courtesy Art Spiegelman
Courtesy Art Spiegelman

 

The comic book/graphic novel continues to evolve and reach new heights of success and respectability.  Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, published last year, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best autobiography.

 

Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury
Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury

The Avengers defended New York during an alien attack in their blockbuster film in 2012

Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel
Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel

 

All images on this website are owned by the original comic book companies which produced them.  Please see individual companies for more information.

 

RECOMMENDED READING:

If you’re into digging more into this subject, here are a few sources that I used for this podcast:

Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of An American Art Form, with written contributions by Paul Buhle

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hadju

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangster and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones

Comic Book Century:  The History of American Comic Books by Stephen Krensky

 

Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution by Ronin Ro

 

The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City by Peter Sanderson

 

The top image is from Godzilla #24, released by Marvel Comics in July 1979. Herb Trimpe penciler, Dan Green inker, im Novak letterer, from a story by Doug Moench, edited by Allen Milgrom and Mary Jo Duffy

 

Greenwich Village, through the eyes of Jean Shepherd: A beatnik city of “secret treasures and hidden gardens”

 Jean Shepherd, probably best known today as the voice of A Christmas Story‘, was a regular presence on New York radio in the 1950s and 60s thanks to his memorable program for the AM station WOR.

Although you might associate his voice with nostalgic tales from suburban Indiana, he was very much a Village raconteur for much of his professional career. Some of his radio programs were broadcast live from the Limelight Coffee House at 91 7th Avenue, and he spent his last years in New York in a West Village apartment at West 10th Street.

In this 1960 short film ‘Village Sunday‘, Shepherd describes life in the Village and around Washington Square Park. Its pretty much a light advertisement for the entirely neighborhood, a pretty lovely thing to behold considering the conflicts the area would face with encroaching development later that decade.

He then wanders over to the Festival of San Gennaro which seems to have changed very little. You can compare it yourself when this year’s festival begins in a couple weeks!

Kings of New York Pizza: Lombardi, Totonno, Patsy, Ray?

Gennaro Lombardi and (I believe) Antonio Totonno Pero with a dog who must have been fed very well. You’ll notice that Lombardi’s is still a grocery store in this picture. Some bananas with your pizza? Although Gennaro is credited with opening New York’s first pizzeria, it may have been Antonio who came up with the pizzas.

PODCAST Listen to it for FREE on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or click this link to listen to the show or download it directly from our satellite site
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New Yorkers are serious about their pizza, and it all started with a tiny grocery store in today’s Little Italy and a group of young men who became the masters of pizza making. In this podcast, you’ll find out all about the city’s oldest and most revered pizzerias — Lombardi’s, Totonno’s, John’s, Grimaldi’s and Patsy’s, in all its variations.

But if those are the greatest names in New York-style pizza, then who the heck is Ray — Original, Famous or otherwise?

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New York-style pizza, in its purest form. Lombardi’s pizza was also sold by the slice back in the day, though today its strictly whole pies. And they no longer don’t wrap them up in paper and tie them with string like they used to!

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Pictures from Totonno’s official website of its creator Antonio ‘Totonno’ Pero, who opened his first pizza restaurant in Coney Island in 1924. The original location was gutted in a fire just this year, but they should be reopening anytime.

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Although John Sasso had the great misfortune of opening his small pizzeria just as the Great Depression was getting started, it managed to survive through hard times to become the West Village’s go-to destination for classic slices.

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Patsy Lancieri opened his great East Harlem pizzeria in East Harlem in 1933. They’ll be celebrating their 76th anniversary next month with some truly retro prices. Get there early this time — let this be a warning.

NOT to be confused with this place — the venerable Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in midtown. This Patsy’s does not sell pizza.

To make sure you don’t confuse the two, why don’t you read a U.S. District Court document ‘Patsy’s Italian Restaurant v Patsy’s Pizzeria‘. The words ‘Sauce Litigation’ are actually used.

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Grimaldi’s “under the Brooklyn Bridge” used to also be a Patsy’s. Today it’s your surest bet for a long line, reportedly still worth the wait.

PODCAST: Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral

We don’t have a new podcast this week, so I thought I’d take an old one and pull a George Lucas on it, re-cutting it, improving the sound quality and taking out some of the dumb sound effects. I guess you’d say — it’s the Bowery Boys remastered!

Here’s our ninth episode on old St Patrick’s Cathedral in Little Italy (or Nolita). Why this one?

Next week the Museum of the City of New York opens their new exhibition ‘Catholics in New York 1808-1946’ so why not go back to the heart of the Catholic scene in the 19th century? Learn about the Hibernians, Martin Scorsese, the naming power of the 90s real-estate market and all those spooky graves.

Listen to it here exclusively:

How St Patrick’s looked before the fire:

And after:

Mourners gathered at old St Pat’s for a memorial to John F Kennedy Jr in 1999

Jane, stop this crazy thing!

(Jacobs, as seen in Canada)

We finally made it over to the Municipal Art Society’s exhibit on the extraordinary Jane Jacobs, community leader and civil planner whose theories on a successful urban landscape are currently fueling community activism today.

Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York is part-bio on Jacobs, part inspection of her legacy on the footprint of modern New York. It heralds her greatest achievements — saving her West Village neighborhood, preserving Washington Square, preventing the Lower Manhattan Expressway — alongside displays of her seminal theories on urban development.

What it seems to diffuse is the age-old good vs evil conflict isolated only between her and Robert Moses, city commissioner with his own (sometimes destructive) theories of urban planning. The exhibit disembodies the dangers of urban growth from the decisions of one man into an always lurking consequence of unchecked development. As a result I came away with the notion that Jacobs herself had been transmogrified into a sort of democratic ideal.

(Below: an early victory of Jacobs closed the traffic circle that cleaved Washington Square in two)

The exhibit visualizes her ‘ballet of the sidewalks’ by focusing on videos of ‘natural’ street corners, where the interplay of office, shops, and restaurants creates a constant flow of people. A rather clever interactive feature allows the view to look right onto the corner outside the window, with labels outlining the corner’s strengths and weaknesses, and a sped up 24-hour camera showing the neighborhood ebbs and flows.

Although obviously depicted as a radical and underdog, her ideas are only once put under scrutiny; the West Village Houses, short street level buildings obviously preferable to some proposed and ungainly apartment towers, are still generic and essentially unattractive co-ops.

Her actions cannot be under appreciated however when it comes to the Lomex — the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The plan by Moses to link the East River bridges to the Holland Tunnel would have slapped an elevated highway straight through lower Manhattan, plowing down Broome Street. Little Italy would have been destroyed. Chinatown would have become more congested. Soho wouldn’t have even existed. The forces that have made those neighborhoods what they are today would have moved to other parts of the city, changing those neighborhoods. The Lomex would have literally destroyed the culture of Manhattan as we know it. Strong community outcry, led by Jacobs and many others, prevented this.

Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities is essential reading, even if urban planning is not exactly your forte. The free Municipal Art Society show, co-sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, will run through January 5. Visit their website for more info.

A few things you might keep in mind as you peruse the exhibit — are Jacobs’ theories relevant today? Can her philosophies be used in condo-crazy 21st century New York? Is it possible to have an urban landscape theory that’s influenced by both Jacobs and Moses?