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Gentrification Seen Through the Pages of a Comic

Greenpoint has now taken on a comic avatar.

Thanks to the creative genius of actor, writer, singer, and illustrator, Tony Wolf, who launched a web-comic series that explores the history of the neighborhood through his personal experiences.

Greenpoint of View: The Arrival is the first in a series of comics Wolf is currently working on that was first published by the online publication The Flexist, last month.

The first strip of the series deals with Wolf’s move to the neighborhood 17 years ago, his interactions with the residents of the predominantly Polish neighborhood at the time, as well as the onset of gentrification with the opening of two new bars on Manhattan Avenue, namely Enid’s and Matchless.

“I’m sure this evolution was happening even before I got there,” said Wolf. “But I wanted to get across what I was witnessing in a visual essay or a visual journey – like an article you would read in the New Yorker, but in comic book form.”

Wolf has been an avid fan of comics since his youth, and has created several sketches and drawings, albeit periodically, since high school.

But it was on the insistence of his friends that his current project got underway. One of his writer-filmmaker friends, Michael Turney, had been encouraging him to write and create his own work for several years. Turney in fact even came up with the title of Wolf’s web-comic series.

Wolf was inspired by several noted comic book artists including Harvey Pekar, most known for his autobiographical comic book series American Splendor; and Brooklyn-based comic book artists Seth Kushner and Dean Haspiel, the latter of who actually collaborated with Pekar on American Splendor.

Wolf wanted to bring the autobiographical comic to a Brooklyn setting, in his case Greenpoint, and Greenpoint of View, was born soon after, with Wolf acting as the protagonist guiding his readers through the different neighborhood montages.

Wolf said he isn’t interested in taking any sides on the rapid changes in the neighborhood, but in presenting the changes the way he has viewed them over the years. He has seen the negative effects of it: people being displaced, in fact, Wolf says it’s a struggle for him to make his own rent at the apartment he has been living at for the past 17 years; and he seen the good of it, particularly the diversity in the neighborhood.

One of the first things that stood out to him were the lack of young people in the neighborhood when he moved here in 1996, and the absence of trendy bars and restaurants that now dot almost every corner of the neighborhood.

The focus on the imagined rivalry between Enid’s and Matchless in his comic are thus a reflection on those rapid changes, the two Manhattan Avenue bars being some of the earliest spots to attract younger crowds.

“I know people like to joke about hipsters today, but it seems to me that in some sense, the early so-called ‘hipsters’ were just trying to recreate their childhoods in the establishments they opened,” said Wolf, referencing the interior of Enid’s in particular. “They filled it with things they loved and remembered from when they were kids… Pac-Man, pinball, photo booths.”

Erik Green, the owner of Matchless, has been supportive of Wolf’s series.

“It was a really funny and creative effort,” he said.

But Green also bemoaned the all-pervasive effects of gentrification. While Green’s three restaurants in the neighborhood have flourished, the rising rents have made it virtually impossible for him to keep his motorcycle shop on North 14th Street open.

Wolf spent a considerable amount of time researching his story, talking to the owners of Matchless and Enid’s, but also didn’t want it to be too research heavy or academic.

He spent over 40 hours crafting this piece, with 6 to 8 hours spent on each page. Wolf’s comics are entirely hand drawn, and as a result he spent over a month creating the first part of the series.

“At times I really wish I knew how to use Photohop,” he said.

Wolf said he currently has about 12 odd stories on the backburner that he wants to publish as a part of his series. Each comic is usually three to six pages long. And work is already underway on his next issue.

The upcoming second episode of ‘Greenpoint of View,’ titled You May Not Know, tells the story of one of Wolf’s earliest visits to McCarren Park while he was struggling and feeling down, where he witnessed a kickball championship taking place. He discovered an up and coming band at the time, The Vitamen, playing live in the park, which drove away his blues.

“It’s exciting for me to do this because it is a labor of love,” he said. “It’s really gratifying to able to do this and I’m excited to write the next one where I’ll be switching more between my personal experiences and the history of the neighborhood.”

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