Drawing From Life in New York
Artist Nathan Pyle on standing at subway entrances, checking out at the 42nd St. Library, and navigating the city in crutches
Nathan Pyle is sure to earn the respect of natives and newcomers alike with his first book, NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette. In the cartoons he's created, he hopes to teach transplants how to survive in New York by taking a light-hearted approach to the positives and negatives of daily life here. In the process, he also manages to entertain city veterans by reinforcing situations that have undoubtedly become second nature to them. The 31-year-old Ohio native moved to Manhattan in 2008 and started putting his work online last year in the form of animated GIFs. In just a few weeks, he already had a book deal. We spoke to the new author about his helpful and heartwarming project.
I'm from New York and think you did a great job with this book.
Awesome. I always hope to get an approval from natives. It's a big deal to me.
You studied theology and taught at a Christian school before moving here. Do you still attend mass?
I still attend a church here in the city, I didn't walk away from the faith or anything. I go to a small Protestant church called Apostles. When I was coming to New York, I found it was a very lonely place to be. The church has really been a big community for me.
I saw a YouTube interview where you said you take inspiration in Manhattan. Where?
There are so many seats in front of windows in the city. Especially for this book, I found that those were the best places to sit and draw, and kind of watch the city go by. I have all these secrets places that people with laptops haven't discovered yet. I have to keep them secret. I go to coffee shops and cafés all throughout the city. I'll even walk to Brooklyn two or three times a week because I don't live far from the Brooklyn Bridge.
So you live by the Ghostbusters firehouse and made a T-shirt about that.
I do! In the video I mention that because that is one of the things I do to make money as a freelancer. I make these T-shirt designs. At first, they didn't make any money. I made over 100 of them and nobody bought any. But after a while, I kept making them and got a little bit better at it and finally people started to buy them. There are these big companies like Woot, which is owned by Amazon. They would license my artwork and put them on onesies and T-shirts. The other is called Threadless, they're a private company in Chicago. A lot of the opportunities I have to do anything are because of the money I get from the T-shirts.
When did you first put the GIFs online?
One year ago at the end of March. I had this idea for a while. I wanted to try and draw some New York-based humor because I had been here for four and a half years at that point. I wanted to make something that someone might buy. Sure enough, someone did buy it. HarperCollins called me up a few weeks after. That was really my hope, that someone would reach out to me like that.
You have a cartoon in the book showing how really anything can go on in Central Park. What is the weirdest thing you've ever seen there?
I remember the very first time I saw people doing something in Central Park that was unusual. I think it was the fact that people would just sunbathe in normal clothes. I remember seeing a lot of people playing weird sports on the Great Lawn. Sports that I didn't think were really sports, but just games they were making up. I was thinking, 'This is exactly what Central Park is all about. You have all this space here and we all have all this pent-up energy because we don't have any grass.' It's like never having a lawn as a kid and wanting to go to the park. It's such a big deal.
One joke you mention is that people can't check books out at the 4nd St. Library.
Yeah, right. [Laughs] A lot of people make that mistake. I sure did. I thought, 'I'm gonna go and check out a book at the famous library.' You're going to have to learn over time that a lot of the things that you assume, you just have to go try them.
The cartoon showing two different kind of brunches - traditional and trendy - is so accurate. Where are your favorite brunch spots?
[Laughs] I went to a really loud brunch on accident one time. Which is fine, if that's what you want. But I wasn't planning on it, I was planning to talk to someone and it wasn't the atmosphere I expected. I had no idea there would be loud brunches; I didn't know they were an option. Café Orlin in the East Village is one of my favorites. On reason is because I love French toast and they have a really good one there. And then down near me, there's a place called Vin et Fleurs. It's kind of off the beaten track in SoHo.
You also show how everyone from residents to tourists needs maps to get around.
One of my cartoons is just a big map of the city where I'm saying a lot of tourists come and think they've explored New York because they wandered around Midtown for a while. The point is that part of the reason we need maps is because this is a huge place. There are many times where I'm on some street that I've never been on before.
Giving money to the homeless is the theme of another cartoon. You mention that people can also give to charities like the Bowery Mission. What's that?
That's one of the oldest missions in the city. The Bowery Mission is an organization that helps people get back on their feet. What's neat is that they do a lot of comprehensive stuff, like helping people with their resume. It's really about helping people get back into the working world which is obviously a huge deal.
A major tip you give is to not stand at the entrance of the subway.
Not a good place to stop. People stop because that's the last chance they have to use their phone for most stations. It's natural for them to want to stand there, but the idea is it's really easy to stand off to the side. And I see people do it the right way all the time.
You also explain that without the privacy of cars, New Yorkers are forced to show emotion on the subway. I've definitely cried in Penn Station a few times.
[Laughs] We've all cried. There are so many examples of seeing people cry in public and on the train. There's really not much that raises anyone's eyebrows in the city. Like no one thinks, 'Oh, look at that guy crying.' Everyone's just going about their business. We're all experiencing this great spread of emotion-some of us are having wonderful days and others are having the worst days ever-but we're all right next to each other on the train.
You said that people here inspire you to do better. Can you give an example of that?
Last year, I was on crutches and that was the worst, being on crutches in Manhattan. There were people opening doors and holding things for me, this is the nicest place in the world. I had so many people say, 'Hey, I was on crutches not long ago. I know how bad it is.'
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