In 1967, a German illustrator going by the single name Robinson published a collection of pen-and-ink drawings called New York. Like so many non-natives before and after him—Hart Crane, E.B. White, Tom Wolfe—Robinson, whose given name was Werner Kruse, was able to see
the city with uncommon clarity, and a single page of his book contains more detail than most of us process in a day. What David Macaulay did for medieval cities in his beloved books like Cathedral and Castle, Robinson did for ours.
Revealed in a new edition from Universe Publishing—New York: Line by Line, From Broadway to the Battery—the drawings most obviously evoke Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker work, particularly when Robinson’s whimsical skeins of pedestrians march across our streets. But Steinberg was a fabulist, creating a city of swooping giant calligraphies and anthropomorphic traffic. Robinson, by contrast, was giving us an ultracrisp experience of the overwhelming muchness of New York. His buildings are scrupulously accurate, down to the tiny tripartite cornices on the brownstones. The zigzaggy edges of the city mass and pile up until they practically spring out of the binding.
Most of the drawings look so contemporary that the moments situating them in the mid-sixties come as delightful surprises. The MetLife building still says Pan Am, and Madison Square Garden is still a shoe box on 49th Street, not a hatbox on 33rd. This is Where’s Waldo? for grown-up big-city people, and the Waldo in question is the window of your own apartment.