Pittsfield native Joey Esposito’s graphic novel creations might originate from a Berkshire County brain, but their scope — both locationally and emotionally — stretch to places far beyond the area of Western Massachusetts and into the shadows of his past travels.
His graphic novel Pawn Shop, illustrated by collaborator Sean Von Gorman, now has a wider new release by Z2 Comics after his original self-published effort in 2011, funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. Back then the book got Honorable Mention on USA Today’s Best Of list, and this new release promises to bring more eyes to work.
Pawn Shop follows the intersecting lives of various New Yorkers, with a pawn shop lurking at the center of the action, connecting the players and the acting as a conduit for the circumstances that change their lives. This is gritty, earnest drama the likes of which you most often find in an indie film, standing in stark contrast to the superhero movies that have dominated the public’s current view of what stories are offered in comics. Esposito’s book is a quiet and contemplative one that weaves the human drama around New York cityscapes in such a way that they are inseparable.
“It’s kind of cliche to say that New York is a character in itself, but it’s true,” he said. “You walk down the streets outside of Time Square and there’s so much unique architecture and so many unique people and everyone’s from different places and it’s just so fascinating.”
Despite its New York setting, though, the book was conceived while Esposito was living in Los Angeles during the moments of transition that inevitably happen when driving in that city.
“I used to drive by this pawn shop every day that’s basically the one you see in the book,” said Esposito. “The exterior, at least, is very much taken from this pawn shop on Van Nuys Blvd. There’s a lot of traffic in Los Angeles, so sitting in traffic is where I did my thinking about stories.”
Esposito’s interest was in a story that had a pawned item that would pass through a number of different hands, offering snap shots into the lives of those characters connected by the one item. The plot evolved from there, but Esposito stuck with the pawn shop as what he calls “this one connecting hub,” and decided to place the story in New York City, where he had lived for seven years.
“I like to say that it’s not so much a love letter to New York so much as it is an apology,” he said. “I was just resentful for whatever reason. I don’t know if it’s that my time in New York didn’t pan out as expected or I don’t think I took advantage of living there as a should have, so this is a make-good to some degree, acknowledging in retrospect how great the city of New York is and really putting it into words.”
Artist Sean Von Gorman is a New York native and the perfect artist, Esposito felt, to bring authenticity to the book’s visuals.
“He obviously knows the city inside and out and has a deep passion for it.”
Though this book is straight drama, other works by Esposito have crossed into genres that are more traditionally thought-of as comic book territory, like Footprints, which features crypto-zoological legends like Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil solving a mystery. Esposito says he is conscious of exploring as many types of stories as he can in comics and never nailing himself down to one type of book. That’s the power of comics medium, he says, and a reason it’s exploded in recent years.
“There are so many comics out there,” Esposito said. “There’s a comic for everybody. People have said that for a long time, but in 2015, it’s more true than ever. In the mainstream and of the mainstream, there are so many different genres, so many different topics, so many different styles, that even if you don’t like comics, there’s no way that someone who knows your taste couldn’t find something for you.”
And, he says, unlike film, comics offers unique storytelling techniques that no other media can claim, and which keep him writing comics, regardless of genre.
“The narrative tools, the monologue captions and things like that, are things that don’t translate to other media,” said Esposito. “I think the moment that showcases that best is the opening of my character Harold’s chapter where visually you see him visiting these New York landmarks that are significant for people that are visiting the city — the Seinfeld restaurant, the place John Lennon was shot, those sort of things — and then his monologue is telling you something different. That’s the dynamic that can only be done in comics.”