Thursday, October 8, 2009

Peg-Leg Pete, Issue #2

“It is my intention to proceed slowly with our trenches.”—Peter Stuyvesant

One night as I was re-watching the Ken Burn’s New York documentary (Disc 2), like I did when I sat down to dinner, I heard the esteemed Peter Hamill say that no one had ever written the perfect New York City book. There were books about New York but never one that encapsulated the whole city. So, like any other cocky red-blooded 25 year old male, I thought I would set out to write one. Ha!
For two years I read as many books about New York history that I could find. One Christmas morning I received my coveted edition of Gotham, a mere 1236 pages of pre-twentieth century New York fun. My mother just looked up at me with my wide-eyes, like I was opening my Knight Rider Hot Wheels all over again, “Books shouldn’t be that long. Do you know what a pain in the ass it was to carry that thing out of Barnes and Nobles?” She glanced over at me flipping through the pages as I said excitedly, “You know, Peter Minuet didn’t really buy Manhattan for $24?” My father still thinking it’s important to encourage his little boy’s interests said, “Oh no?” Mom rolled her eyes and  grunted, “Someday you’ll tell me what this is all about, ok? So then maybe I can sleep through the night.”

 Regardless, over that next year I was reading and researching. I was on a mission from God (Peter Hamill) to write the Great New York City novel. Ideas cropped up here and there. Characters started over developing. Plot arcs where drawn up and down and over again. I quickly became overwhelmed. One book became three. Three books became seven and soon I was writing character sketches that went on for thirty pages. A few pages of a prelude to a prequel were written but they were left to rot in a blue Ralph Lauran shirt box under my bed.  I was symbolically burying my primer to this mammoth project in a catacomb that was once occupied by a great blue and red-stripped rugby shirt. It was too lofty and arrogant a dream. I simply settled on my historical New York fixation to be a decorative choice and immediately heaved a sigh of ho hum. 

Enter Courtney Zell: Good friend, talented artist, and companion on many crazy adventures, one of which included making a trust-fund baby cry at Mars Bar. One night, over one too many glasses of wine, I started telling her about this New York novel. It involved secret societies, vengeful whales and nerdy librarian linguists. I think I went on for about an hour. I figured she would immediately ask me to leave and seek help. She didn’t. She smiled and said she loved it. On a lark I blurted out, “How about making it a graphic novel?” She agreed although neither one of us knew anything about comics. But like two cracked-up pieces making a whole, we found our calling. At first, the book was called The Tulips, but something very Tiny Tim (may he rest) resonated. Next we tried, Owen Tulip in the Empire City. That stuck for about a month but it was like a mouthful of marbles to say. Then looking over some vintage art one afternoon we spied a poster from a 1925 film, New York, The Wonder City. That was it! Drop the “New York” and we were sold. We had a title, we had a story (that needed some tailoring), and we had a medium. Three years later, although not anywhere near the finish, we are steadily building our trenches.

What in the world does all that have to do with Peter Stuyvesant? Since so much of the story was rooted in history I needed to find that New York historical character who could be my lynchpin; the rug who tied the room together, as it were.  The staunch peg-legged governor of New Amsterdam seemed to be the fit.

Only one problem: no one had a clue this guy ever existed.

In our next issue of Peg-Leg Pete. Justin sends out a survey about Peter Stuyvesant and the proverbial good times roll.

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