Time lines: Cartoonist draws neighborhoods through the ages

Past perfect: Julia Wertz, creator of the illustated history “Tenements, Towers and Trash,” drew this image of a Carroll Gardens streetcorner as it appeared in 1928.
Julia Wertz

She’s talking trash!

A longtime local artist and writer will celebrate her cartoon history of New York City with several events in Brooklyn, including a launch party at Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo on Oct. 5. Julia Wertz, who lived in Greenpoint for 10 years before a recent move to the West Coast, said that her book “Tenements, Towers, and Trash” will reveal little-known stories with an additional dose of wisecracks.

“History can be very sterile and boring, and I wanted to deliver history in an accessible way with light-hearted humor,” said Wertz. “I really want to give readers a new way to see the city and start to recognize the way it used to look.”

Trash talk: Cartoonist Julia Wertz explores an abandoned building while researching her new illustrated guide to New York City history “Tenements, Towers, and Trash.”
Julia Wertz

Wertz’s previous work mostly featured short jokes and funny autobiographical stories about living in Brooklyn, lousy jobs, and drinking way too much. But her new book covers two centuries of New York history, covering Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay, where horses and other animals were once rendered down into industrial projects, the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, and the infamous 19th century abortionist of Fifth Avenue, among many other events and figures. Wertz often gives her characters an anachronistic speaking style or ironically knowing dialogue, such as when one 1960s figure says of Brooklyn “No one will ever want to go to that garbage borough.”

“The humor is throughout the dialogue — there’s no one singular joke that I deliver,” said Wertz. “It consists of a lot of irreverent jokes and it’s the tone of the book.”

The book also includes many detailed black-and-white drawings of changing citiscapes, capturing how neighborhoods and landmarks — including famed punk club CBGB — have changed over the years. Researching and drawing the locations was fun, but the changes could also be depressing, said Wertz.

A trashy book: Cartoonist Julia Wertz’s new book, “Tenements, Towers and Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City,” is a fun take on the city’s stories.
Julia Wertz

“One of my favorite ones I did was four decades of CBGB — I spent so much time going to maps and drawing it and that was fun,” she said. “I tried to illustrate buildings that aren’t the same, and it’s sad when you see the juxtaposition.”

Wertz often used Google Maps to perfect her illustrations of modern street scenes, but for some projects she needed to explore up-close, travelling to restricted territory far from her usual drawing table.

“For a lot of these abandoned places I did some trespassing, and climbing into old buildings in order to gather material,” she said. “I had to go out to sketchy places — and it was really fun, but really the opposite of what I usually do as a cartoonist.”

A landmark: Wertz drew the infamous CBGB punk club in the 1980s.
Julia Wertz

“Tenements, Towers, and Trash” launch party at Powerhouse Arena [28 Adams St. between Front and Water streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, www.powerhousearena.com]. Oct. 5 at 7 pm. Free.

Julia Wertz at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch (10 Grand Army Plaza at Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, www.bklynlibrary.org). Oct. 11 at 6:30 pm.

She also appears at the “Panels to the People” talk at Word Bookstore [126 Franklin St. at Milton Street in Greenpoint, (718) 383–0096, www.wordbookstores.com] Oct. 2 at 7 pm. Free.

Now gone: Wertz also drew the current incarnation of the CBGB location.
Julia Wertz

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.

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