Even at his worst, Eisner could outdo most of today's comic art talent - and this collection is far from his worst. Maybe it is his career in comic art which lasted than many people's lives (over sixty years), or maybe it was the fact that he was one of the innovators of the graphic novel (often credited as the creator, but there remains speculation), or maybe he just has an inherent affinity for telling tales with pictures and words. Whatever the reason, any Eisner collection can almost be taken for granted as being excellent, the same way virtually any Shakespeare collection will still be applauded. But this four hundred page behemoth graphic novel includes four individual graphic novels by Eisner and an enlightening introduction by Neil Gaiman, a popular and talented name in films (MirrorMask), books (Neverwhere), and comic books (Sandman). In these pieces, Eisner illuminates some of the most subtle and unique perspectives of life in New York, tribute enough to make any New Yorker genuinely smile.
The first piece, New York, considers the physical attributes of the Big Apple. Through a series of shorts, Eisner shows what life is like for such commonplace objects as sewer grates, mailboxes, windows, hydrants, and other fixtures throughout the city. Though he mostly presents concrete aspects of New York, he also ventures into more abstract ideas, such as music within the city, with some success. The Building stands visibly as his strongest work in this collection. As four ghosts stand outside the new Hammond Building, Eisner relates how each of them came to be so connected with the building. These four characters come together for one final brief story tying it all together. Eisner's "City People Notebook" is akin to the New York piece and resembles a sociological exploration into the dynamics of life in New York. Again, Eisner uses many short strips, some of which are nonspeaking, so readers at time breeze through these pages. However, they should slow down, because even in the briefest of strips, Eisner still packs a decent amount of knowledge. Invisible People explores the lives of three fairly unremarkable people, who Eisner seems to imply do not matter or come and leave this world with no one ever realizing it.
Like all great comic artists, Eisner knew the power of words but also utilized the power of silence. His ability to tell stories large or small without so much as using a single caption bubble or exposition box cannot be overappreciated. His repeated effort to minimize the use of words in his material was a goal that he always strived for, believing that true sequential art should be wordless. While this belief is debatable, his minimalist practices reflect his emphasis on the art.
The strategic placement of the stories also should be noted. By alternating between plot-driven graphic novels with what are really social murals of New York, editor Denis Kitchen allows readers to take breaks, or helps them think about the broad and the narrow aspects of life in New York by focusing on lots of people in his murals and very specific people in his stories.
So much more could be said of this collection. People will continue to write about his effect on the medium and emergence of comic art as a legitimate cultural representation, thereby rising above the dreaded label of "pop culture." New York offers a fantastic tribute to the city as well as to Eisner's range of abilities.