The career of Robert Moses, New York City’s erstwhile master builder, resulted in hundreds of miles of parks, playgrounds, bridges, tunnels, and expressways, and New York landmarks like Lincoln Center and the United Nations Headquarters. Best known for his desire to clear New York’s slums to make the city and its immediate surroundings more easily accessible by car, Moses has a long and complex legacy that was meticulously detailed in Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a 1,200-page tome few are willing to read cover-to-cover.
Now, there’s a quicker way to brush up on his life story: a graphic biography that draws upon Caro’s book as a source Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City is an easy-to-digest account perfect for those who don’t wade through a textbook.
French comics writer Pierre Christin and French-born Chilean illustrator Olivier Balez teamed up to bring Robert Moses’s story to life sequentially. The graphic biography recounts scenes from Moses’s childhood and early career, his battle with Jane Jacobs, and his eventual retirement and death in 1981.
The book came about when Christin’s daughter recommended he read Caro’s seminal 1974 biography of Moses. Christin decided that a graphic treatment would allow him to dig into the numerous contradictions presented by the study of Moses’s career. “Is Moses a charming man? Is he Machiavellian or a great visionary man?” asks Balez, who had previously worked with Christin on a book about the Atacama desert, wrote in an email to Co.Design.
The book explores parts of New York that rarely are glorified in comics. “While I was working on the visuals, I quickly realized that the city of New York presented to us by Pierre Christin did away with every representation of the classic city corners I wanted to draw,” Balez says. “Besides the Flatiron Building, the rest of the story shows us toll booths, highways, construction sites, swamps.” To fill in the gaps in the visual story, Balez, who lives in Santiago, Chile, took inspiration from images of New York City on the web and in documents provided to him by Christin, who has explored every nook and cranny of the city on his travels. The graphics took almost a year to outline, illustrate, and color.
The goal, according to Balez, was to “show the general public a man who shaped the city over a span of three decades, while remaining unknown to most people.” The graphic treatment is a perfect way to capture the story of one of New York’s most powerful men, making it accessible even to those who don’t want to sift through hundreds of pages of biographical footnotes.
Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City is available from Nobrow for $24.95.