Title: Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay

Author: Ben Katchor

Context: Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (1996) is a graphic novel about a middle-age rumpled man named Julius Knipl, in a hat and suit photographing buildings and wandering the streets, in a shadowy and vast vanishing city of neglected warehouses, coffee shops, juice stands and old skyscrapers.

Synopsis: Julius Knipl is basically a real estate photographer. The fedora-wearing mustachioed explorer and photographer takes page-long snapshots of New York City while exploring offices, shops and streets of New York City. The urban landscape he is taking pictures contains obsolete industries, numerous inexpensive food sources, monuments dedicated to forgotten events and people, low-rent apartment buildings and lots more.

The novel portrays the losses caused due to globalization, gentrification and development of malls in the United States of America which is as emotive as it was around 25 years back.

The graphic novel went on to become one of the first books of the contemporary graphic novel golden age. In fact it set the stage for the author to be considered as one of the finest cartooning genius, in the modern day times. The novel proves to be an early testament to Katchor’s remarkable prescience as an astute urban chronicler and a well endowed cartoonist.

Who roams around the vanishing city in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. With New York being home to 50 cent hot dogs, hand-painted window ads and photos of dead celebrity customers being plastered on the deli walls, Knipl’s version of New York has gone at a distant time in the past.

The novel subtly reminds the constant disappearance of the vast details of popular culture in this vanishing city of America.

Other works by the author:

1986 – Picture Story 2

1998 – The Jew of New York

2000 – Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District

2011 – The Cardboard Valise

2013 – Hand-Drying In America

2018 – “Conversations: Ben Katchor”

2020 – The Daily Restaurant, an illustrated history