Katchor's first major retrospective, "Picture -- Stories" brings the line drawings off the page with a multimedia display. The show includes work from both recent comic strips and graphic novels, including Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay; Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories; and The Jew of New York. Also on display are set designs created for the Obie Award-winning opera based on his strips, The Carbon Copy Building, and radio renditions of his most famous character, Julius Knipl, produced for National Public Radio and read by Jerry Stiller and Professor Irwin Cory.
Katchor based Knipl, a disheveled nebbish and loner, on his childhood in Brooklyn in the '50s. Firmly rooted in the urban experience, Katchor's work is particularly relevant to New Yorkers and Jews, but his portrayal of big-city life appeals to urban dwellers of all kinds. Though his narratives are old-fashioned, they exist in a surreal, timeless world that is Katchor's own. Some may wonder what appeal the East Coast cartoonist could have out west, but readers of his syndicated strip Hotel & Farm, which runs in this paper, should already know. A saga that switches between urban and rural milieus, the comic captures the city denizen's need to get away from it all; Katchor's characters escape to the fictional Echoic City, no doubt a nod to the chicken farm/communist hotel that the artist's father ran in upstate New York. Katchor uses the minute details of daily life and a sharp wit to explore the big questions of alienation and loneliness. His hapless characters -- loners like Knipl who toil away as tour bus drivers, kosher butchers, or salesmen of 8-foot balloons -- are especially poignant in these hard-knock times.